The Roy Brown Society wishes to thank Hugh Halliday for his research and writing about Sterne Edwards which was used in the making of this article.
Compiled by Rob Probert and Russell Holmes of the Roy Brown Society, assisted by the writings of Larry Gray, author “We Are The Dead”
Sterne Edwards was born in Franktown on Feb 13, 1893 the son of Dennis and Annie Edwards. When he applied to the Royal Naval Air Service on Aug.10, 1915 his medical records stated that he was twenty-two years, five months old, stood 5’11” and weighed 163 pounds. His school principal spoke well of him including “very fit both mentally and physically while his manners and morals seemed beyond reproach”.
As a very young man, he was an outstanding athlete and attended church regularly. His father died when he was just 20 years of age so he took on as leader of the family. No doubt this was a heavy weight but he was found to have a sense of adventure and a love of all things in life. By all accounts he played sports well, especially hockey, and likely well knew his way around Lake Mississippi. He graduated from the Carleton Place High School.
Edwards found work in the railways and finished with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad. History tells us that while he was a hard worker, he was very proficient at the game of poker. One should point out that he did not adopt all of the traits of a poker player… he did not drink or smoke. Perhaps this was the cause of his reported successes.
When war broke out he was working on a wilderness survey and set out on foot to the nearest railway station, only 200 miles away at the The Pas, Manitoba. Quite lost at times, local natives helped him along the way and he eventually returned to Carleton Place where he found his buddies Roy Brown, Murray Galbraith and Walter Sussan. They had each decided to join the air services.
These four young men set off on Aug.30, 1915, at their own expense, to Dayton, Ohio where they had been accepted as flight students by the Wright Brothers Aviation School. The Curtiss School in Toronto was full and this was the next and likely best choice.
This was no luxury school. Most students slept in the hangers and walked to nearby farms for meals. Training was mostly on the ground. Flying lessons cost each $250.00 for 249 minutes of instruction. The final test flight consisted of two figure eights and a dead stick (engine off) landing from 500 feet to a specific spot on the field. Sterne received his Aero Club of America certificate # 350 on Oct.13, 1915. He and the other lads from Carleton Place were now qualified to join the military.
Appointed as a probationary sub-lieutenant on Oct 27, 1915, Edwards sailed for England just a few days later on Nov 3 on board the S.S.Corinthian . The remaining three new pilots from Carleton Place arrived Nov.22 at the training base at Chingford. These four lads became known as the HOBO QUARTET. They all trained in the art of military flying and bomb dropping. All of this, including the mere act of flying were new technologies, all evolving skills.
Keep in mind that the era of flight was all very new and these machines were extremely flimsy. They were not much more than slats of wood and canvas with a huge engine rattling every bone in their bodies. Many pilots suffered intestinal problems as a result of the fumes from the castor oil that lubricated the engines. The famed white silk scarves (originally just torn up sheets) were not meant for flare, they were needed to help filter the fumes and keep oil off their goggles. Silk reduced chaffing from continuous head turning while looking for the enemy.
Originally trained as a bomber pilot bomber, Sterne participated in bombing missions in Sopwith 1 ½ Strutters from September 1916 until he became a fighter pilot in March 1917. Military flight was an evolving science and he found himself assigned to, and reassigned to, a number of units. In any case he was on offensive patrol over Flanders and the Somme much of the time. Just In the Last half of 1917 he flew 85 flights and nearly 160 hours in the air.
On June 17, 1917 he escaped a very close call when the engine cowl came off of his new Camel biplane at 3,000 feet during a training flight. The cowl severely damaged the engine, cracked the propeller, damaged the center section and the upper wing and became lodged in the wire supports of the wings. This was no minor problem and happened in a mere second. His excellent skills and some good luck brought him down safely.
On Aug. 10, 1917 he was transferred to Number 9 (Naval) Squadron near Bray Dunnes. Here, he was finally reunited with his buddy, Roy Brown. They were finally flying together. Edwards and Brown were both flight commanders and as such in charge of the lives of other men.
Sterne never mentioned in his log books that he was shooting down enemy aircraft. In fact his first victory was Sept 3 and within just 3 weeks he had four victories and one shared victory and was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross. He and his squadron were engaged in heavy combat often with upwards of 40 enemy aircraft in some battles. Flying at heights above 8,000 feet was horrific.
In Nov. Edwards and Brown were given leave and managed to return to Carleton Place for Christmas, however their war was not over and in January they returned to their squadron Naval 9. In April the Royal Naval Air Service merged with the Royal Flying Corps into the new Royal Air Force and using the RAF ranks both became Captains and the squadron was renumbered to 209.
Back in the air Edwards added more victories to his list. Air warfare was becoming more sophisticated and along with newer and more powerful planes, flying in larger numbers the tactics were more complicated.
Edwards was not flying the day Roy Brown downed vonRichthofen but he was given a piece of fabric from the red tri-Fokker of the Red Baron as a souvenir which he sent home to his sister.
Edwards last victory came May 16, 1918 when he and pilots Taylor and May (the famed Wop May) encountered ten German Fokker, downing one and driving off the rest. Combat fatigue was very common and it finally grabbed Edwards. The actual life span of a fighter pilot was quite short and he well outlasted most. As an Ace (5 or more victories) Edwards was credited with 17. He was posted back to England and while working as an instructor reclaimed his health.
It is at this point that the Edwards and Roy Brown stories cross dramatically in a way that must be told.
In July of 1918 Capt. Roy Brown collapsed at the controls of his plane during a training mission as the flight instructor. He was pulled from the wreckage more dead than alive. Word spread quickly and Edwards rushed to the site only to find that Brown was in the field hospital morgue. Dead. Edwards had to see his buddy, moved the covering off of Brown`s head and found a cut on his face that was bleeding. He knew that this could not be so. He had difficulty getting any medical staff to pay attention but he persisted and Brown was revived and lived on. A true miracle if ever there was one.
Fate was not so kind to Edwards. The German war effort was collapsing. Turkey and Austria had capitulated and Germany was about to sign the Armistice. Edwards had decided to apply for a permanent commission and stay in the RAF. The war was winding down.
On Nov.12, 1918, Edwards decided to take his plane for a flight. It might prove to be the last one he could take as the squadron could easily be broken up very soon. He took his Sopwith Pup for that last ride. In a spin, the ground revolved around him and started coming up fast. He tried to pull out of the sickening dive, to level off, and then his wing tip touched the field, dragging the fragile pup to the ground. Unconscious, he was dragged from the plane and hospitalized. Over the next few days he showed some signs of improvement but ultimately on Nov 20 his leg had to be amputated below the knee. The shock proved too much and he drew his last breath on Nov. 22.
At the age of just 25, this brave young man had fought for his country and given all. He was buried in Tadcaster Cemetery, Yorkshire. His personal effects were returned to his mother; these included his dog-eared prayer book, his poker chips and the photograph of an unidentified young woman. Who she was and the meaning were never determined.
In 1920, a beautiful bonze tablet was unveiled during a memorial service in St. James Anglican Church, Carleton Place. That tablet, too this day, has a place of honour just inside the church entry. Roy Brown was asked to take part in the dedication. Brown was so overcome with emotion that he could not speak. Words failed Brown. Because of his friend, Stern Edwards, he was alive; and like so many brave soldiers, Edwards was gone.
Lest We Forget