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Commemoration ceremony
for Air Force heroes

September, 2001

Assistant High Commissioner David Ritchie with GPCAPT Des Sheen's daughter Diana. She is holding a framed photo of her father, presented to her by GPCAPT Osley (right).
London cloaked itself in delightful summer weather for a significant ceremony saluting two war heroes at the Australian High Commission's Downer Room on 25 July.

The commemoration ceremony was held for Sir Hugh Edwards, VC, DSO, DFC, and one of the dwindling 'few of the few' Battle of Britain pilot Des Sheen, DFC.

In what proved to be an emotional event, an overview of Sir Hugh's extraordinary life was given by Deputy High Commissioner David Ritchie while Air Advisor, Group Captain Kym Osley gave an amusing and touching rendition of Des Sheen's achievements.

The Victoria Cross was awarded to Air Commodore, Sir Hugh (known as Sir Hughie) Edwards in 1944 after leading 15 Blenheims on a successful raid on the German industrial town of Bremen.

Air Advisor, GPCAPT Kym Osley, with the Edwards family: from left Sir Hughie's brother Jack, daughter Sarah and son Anthony.
The Assistant High Commissioner paid a moving tribute to the Australian hero who showed 'the highest possible standards of gallantry and determination'.

During the sortie four aircraft were lost, yet Sir Hughie's was first on target and the last to leave. Sir Hughie's flew so low his aircraft came back dragging German telegraph wire and riddled with bullet holes.

The ever modest hero, who later became Governor of Western Australia, declared that the VC had been won for the entire Squadron and hung the citation in the mess hall of the Squadron's base at RAF Swanton Morley.

More than 50 years later, RAF cook Mel Elliott found the dusty frame while cleaning out the old boiler room after the base was closed in 1995.

'Once I cleaned some of the dirt and grime off it, I realised what it was and said to my senior manager, "What should I do with this",' Mr Elliott said.

'The reply came back, "Well, we were told to clear everything. Chuck it into this cart and get rid of it".'

GPCAPT Hugh Edwards, VC, DSO, DFC in the ABC studios.
(Photograph courtesy of
Australian Associated Press.)
Mr Elliott reluctantly put the frame into the rubbish cart, but then asked the driver to rescue it once he was out the front gate.

Mr Elliott admitted to 'slightly disobeying instructions' in making the request. He finally contacted the RAF Association whose members tracked down Sir Hughie's brother Jack in Perth.

In turn his son Antony and daughter Sarah were contacted in England with the assistance of Cindy Patterson in the Air Advisor's office. All were present for the ceremony.

GPCAPT Osley also praised his assistant, Liza Albion for her organisational skills, which greatly contributed to the success of the day's ceremony.

The original citation was presented to Sir Hughie's son Antony by David Ritchie.

GPCAPT Osley had formed a friendship with Des Sheen - very much the reluctant Battle of Britain hero - during his posting as Air Advisor.

In spite of the old fighter pilot's reticence, GPCAPT Osley was able to give the largely World War II guests, an amusing and insightful coverage of his eventful life. He presented GPCAPT Sheen's daughter Diana with a framed photo of her father.

GPCAPT Sheen was the first Australian fighter pilot to taste combat in Europe. He commented, 'a fighter pilot is not always as glamorous as it sounds'.

'It was often exhausting, up at dawn, and if you were lucky to still be there when it got dark - you could be called out five and six times a day. Maybe I was lucky, the most I ever was called out was three in one day.'

GPCAPT Sheen was one of the last surviving Australian Battle of Britain pilots.

Story and photographs by Ken Llewelyn