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Canadian WWII flying ace 'Stocky' Edwards dies

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One of Canada's most successful Second World War flying aces, James Francis "Stocky" Edwards of Comox, B.C., has died at the age of 100.

Edwards was 19 years old when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in October 1940. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of wing commander and achieved an estimated 20 confirmed aerial kills, mainly over North Africa, though the Department of National Defence admits there is still debate over the official tally.

"Flying a P-40 Kittyhawk, he flew 373 operational sorties and was never shot down himself," said National Defence spokesperson Yvette Mills in a statement to CTV News.

"There is some discrepancy over the number of confirmed kills, however it is a greater testimony to Stocky’s character, and memory, to mention that he did not like to discuss this number as a matter of professionalism," Mills added.

Edwards earned the nickname "Stocky" for his toughness despite his small stature. He was born in Saskatchewan and went on to serve 32 years with the air force, in a variety of domestic and international posts, before settling in Comox.

It was on the Canadian prairie that Edwards first honed his shooting skills, according to longtime friend Dave Mellin, an honourary colonel with the air force's 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron.

"He used to tell the story that he was very fortunate as a fighter pilot because he understood to lead his target – not shoot at his target but lead it," Mellin told CTV News. "And he acquired that knowledge hunting ducks with his father back home."

'THERE WASN'T AN AWFUL LOT THEY COULD DO'

Edwards was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2004 and a Knight of France's Legion of Honour in 2014.

His longtime friend was on vacation in Mexico when he received a phone call with the news that Edwards was in the beginning stages of heart failure.

"There wasn’t an awful lot they could do for him and Stocky, being the gentleman he is, said 'I don't want any heroics and I don’t want to pass away in the hospital. I want to be with my friends and family.' And that's exactly what he did," Mellin said.

"He passed away peacefully early Saturday evening and it was in the company of a lot of close friends and of course as much family as possibly could get there."

Comox Mayor Russ Arnott confirmed the death Saturday in a Facebook post, saying, "Stocky's intelligence, warmth and energy never ceased to amaze us."

In recent years, Edwards had dedicated his time to conservation projects, including wetlands protection with Ducks Unlimited.

Mayor Bob Wells of Courtenay, B.C., said Edwards was "a heroic man of great character and conviction, and yet he was consistently humble, charming, and kind."

The mayor joined others in offering his condolences to the war veteran's wife, Toni, and their family.

A funeral is expected to be held at Christ the King Catholic Church in Courtenay.

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