Tribute to Sir Hughie

May 23, 2002

The late Sir Hughie Edwards in his highly decorated World War II days as a pilot with 460 Squadron
The late Sir Hughie Edwards in his highly decorated World War II days as a pilot with 460 Squadron

It may have taken 60 years, but a fitting tribute to a Western Australian who was the most highly-decorated Australian in World War II, the late Sir Hughie Edwards, is about to become reality, thanks to the efforts of a group of the hero's former Air Force squadron members.

Led by former 460 Squadron rear gunner and retired Australian military historian, Flying Officer (Ret'd) Peter Firkins, the group has raised funds from private donors, with support from the WA Lotteries Commission, to sculpt and erect a bronze statue honouring the former Fremantle boy.

Mr Firkins, chairman of the Sir Hughie Edwards VC Foundation, masterminded the fundraising and selection of a local sculptor Andrew Kay to give Sir Hughie permanent recognition for his World War II achievements.

'Despite being the most highly decorated Australian in World War II, his bravery and great contribution to helping maintain our freedoms have gone largely unrecognised in his home State of Western Australia,' Mr Firkins said.

'He was a Fremantle boy from a poor family who went onto incredible achievement and we believe deserved proper recognition for his deeds, but more importantly as a fitting role model for our younger generation,' Mr Firkins said.

Raised and educated in White Gum Valley and Fremantle as the son of a Welsh immigrant working class family, Sir Hughie's bravery, skill, gallantry and leadership led to him receiving the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross by the end of the war.

Sir Hughie served as Governor of WA for a brief period in 1974 before ill health forced him to retire. He died in 1982.

The sculpture, a life-size figure showing Sir Hughie in his pilot's uniform looking skyward and awaiting for the remainder of his squadron to arrive back from death-defying bombing raids over Europe, will be erected in Kings Square, near the Fremantle Town Hall.

Mr Kay said that his research revealed Edwards' tremendous consideration and care for those he served with throughout his career.

'He preferred to be involved in combat missions, in which he had a dogged determination to see it through no matter what the odds, over safer administration roles,' Mr Kay said.

One of the ironies of Sir Hughie's achievements is that he was an average pilot.

Arthur Hoyle, in his book Sir Hughie Edwards, said: 'As a pilot Hughie was certainly below average, as was demonstrated by the quite large number of aircraft which he damaged or destroyed. He always had some difficulty landing, especially heavy bombers'.

The citation for Sir Hughie's Victoria Cross, however, gives an insight into the hero's bravery and leadership:

'Wing Commander Hughie Idwal Edwards DFC, although handicapped by physical disability resulting from a flying accident, has repeatedly displayed gallantry of the highest order in pressing home bombing attacks from very low heights against strongly defended objectives. On 4 July 1941 he led an important attack on the port of Bremen one of the most heavily defended towns in Germany. This attack had to be made in daylight and there were no clouds to afford concealment. During the approach to the German coast, several ships were sighted and Wing Commander Edwards knew that his aircraft would be reported and that the defences would be in a state of readiness.

'Undaunted by his misfortune, he brought his formation fifty miles overland to the target, flying a height of little more than fifty feet, passing under high tension cables, carrying away telegraph wires and finally passing through a formidable balloon barrage. On reaching Bremen he was met by a blast of fire, all his aircraft being hit and four of them being destroyed. Nevertheless, he made a most successful attack, and then with the greatest skill and coolness withdrew the remaining aircraft without further loss.

'Throughout the execution of this operation, which he planned personally with full knowledge of the risks entailed, Wing Commander Edwards displayed the highest possible standard of gallantry and determination.'

By Caroline de Mori