Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Eulogy for Edgar Lewis Pickles


Written and spoken by Annie Barr
25.10.2019
 
England's last remaining flying Lancaster Bomber - flying over us at the RAF Waddington International Air Show 2012

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Edgar had an old, grease stained poster of these words stuck prominently on a cupboard door in his kitchen at Cadell; he followed that advice for his entire life. Edgar viewed every new day as a gift.

Edgar Lewis Pickles was born on the 10thNovember 1920, and grew up on a farm near Rand in NSW with his younger brother, Bill and his adored younger sister, Gwennie. 

Towards the end of the 1920s when Edgar was eight or nine, his two favourite aunts paid for Edgar to have a flight over Corowa with legendary Australian aviator, Charles Kingsford Smith in his original tri-motor monoplane the “Southern Cross”. The same plane Kingsford Smith had flown to complete the first ever trans-Pacific flight to Australia from the mainland United States in June 1928. Edgar said it was a tremendous experience, he recalled the floorboards shaking and talking to “Smithy” as they flew over Corowa. Edgar was always very proud of the fact that that flight was the first entry in his RAAF Flying Log Book.

Edgar rode his pony, Dainty, four and a half miles to primary school at Morebringer. High school was in Corowa and Edgar rode his pushbike there each day, a 26 mile (42km) round trip. A keen student, Edgar enjoyed mathematics, geography and technical drawing. Topping his class of fifty students in his first year at high school, Edgar was then allowed to miss the second year altogether and go straight into third year where he completed his intermediate certificate before returning to the family farm at Rand to work alongside his father.

In 1939, Edgar joined the 8thLight Horse Regiment. In 1940 Edgar was part of the 3rdCavalry Division in Torquay while bushfires were raging in the area, half of the township of Torquay was destroyed by fire but Edgar said, “We fought valiantly and saved the pub!”

Later in 1940, Edgar enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as aircrew and completed his first solo flight on the 27thNovember 1941 in a DH.82 Tiger Moth. They were an easy aircraft to handle and because they were the first aircraft Edgar flew, they always held a very special place in his flying experience. 

Edgar loved aerobatics and used to fly out over the Fairymead sugar mill near Bundaberg QLD and do gliding loops, loops, slow rolls, and his special manoeuvre – a half roll out of a stall turn.

By 1943 Edgar was in England with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command and piloting an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber powered by four Rolls Royce Merlin engines, night after night over Europe. 

A total of 55,573 airmen died flying for the RAF Bomber Command during World War Two. Of the total RAAF bomber crew who served with Bomber Command, 35 percent or 3,486 were killed.

Edgar was twenty-two years old when he flew his first Lancaster and by the time the war ended two years later he risen from Sergeant Pilot to Squadron Leader with a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and Bar. The DFC is awarded for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy” and the bar is added to the ribbon for holders of the DFC who received a second award.

His first DFC citation reads: Pilot Officer PICKLES has displayed outstanding courage and determination in many attacks on major and heavily defended targets in Germany. 

One night in July, 1943, this officer was pilot and captain of a bomber ordered to attack Hamburg. While proceeding to make the attack the aircraft was engaged by enemy fighters and two of Pilot Officer PICKLE’S crew were killed and a third seriously injured.

Nevertheless this officer displayed masterly airmanship and succeeded in evading his assailants and flew the aircraft safely back to the United Kingdom.

Edgar’s second DFC citation reads: Throughout two tours of operational duty, Squadron Leader PICKLES had maintained his zest, enthusiasm and determination for operational flying.

Since the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross he has flown on sorties during the worst winter weather and in the face of the enemy’s heaviest defences but, undaunted, has ensured by his skill, efficiency and brilliant leadership the success of his own missions and assisted and encouraged other captains and crews under his command to equal his own achievements.

At the end of the war, Edgar was commissioned to get a crew together to fly a Lincoln bomber out to Australia. He said “I had to locate this illustrious and cosmopolitan group of difficult countrymen, and extract them from pubs and units all over Bomber Command and form them into an efficient crew.” His navigator for that trip was Flight Lieutenant Douglas McDonald DFC, known as Mac and they became lifelong friends. I can still remember Mac sitting in the kitchen at Cadell recalling the day that they met. 

Mac was to be interviewed by Edgar for the role of Navigator for the trip, he arrived with a list of all his credentials but all Edgar asked him was “Do you drink?”
“Love it.” replied Mac
“You’re in.” said Edgar

In the early 1950s, Edgar purchased “Cadell”, once the original “Barham Station”, near Barham, where he grew rice, cereal crops and ran sheep and cattle.

The Vee Dub Beetle was Edgar’s preferred mode of farm transport and I’m sure many of you here today, would have experienced touring Cadell in one of his favourite beetles. My first farm tour of Cadell was early in July 2005, I was in the front with Edgar and my three sons, Max, Sam and Henry were in the back. Henry (who was two years old at the time) was standing in the middle, holding onto the back of the front seats. I was somewhat disconcerted to discover about halfway through the tour, as we bounced up and over rice check banks, that Henry was straddling a “Henry sized hole” in the floor! 

Edgar’s love of aircraft and all things aviation, never left him. After the war, he owned and flew several aircraft, including a two seater Ryan Trainer, an ex-RAAF P51 Mustang and a four-seater V tail Beechcraft Bonanza.

Many of you will remember trips in the Bonanza during the late 1970s and later and coming home in the dark with only the kitchen light at Cadell to guide the plane in. (Before leaving Hay or wherever he had been, he would phone Taffy, who used to work for Edgar, and ask him to turn the kitchen light on.)

During the mid 1980s, Edgar’s niece, Jen and her husband, Ian were visiting Cadell with Ian’s parents, who were out from the UK. Edgar insisted on a flying tour but the Bonanza wouldn’t start. Not to be deterred, Edgar got the battery out of the VW and put it in the plane. Once they were airborne, Edgar passed the controls over to Ian (who I must state, is NOT a pilot), instructed Ian to fly straight and level, then proceeded to roll himself a cigarette and turned around to chat with Ian’s parents, Jim and Agnes.

Keith Berwick was a flying friend from Albury. After staying at Cadell one time, Keith had inadvertently left his underpants there. Edgar took it upon himself to fly to Albury to return them. He chose a day that Keith was entertaining guests at his home – Edgar tied the underpants to a brick and threw them out the window of his plane as he flew over Keith’s home (fortunately no one was killed or injured… except perhaps, Keith’s dignity).

Paying bills was not one of Edgar’s strong points… at one point Edgar was having some difficulty with the ATO and his tax bill; he offered to drive a mob of steers up to the lawn in front of Parliament House in Canberra in lieu of paying his bill (the ATO declined his offer).

Edgar loved entertaining but his catering often left a little to be desired… numerous times over the years friends were invited out to dinner at Cadell only to be greeted by the complete absence of cooking smells on arriving at the house. Drinks and merriment would ensue, several hours would pass and then Edgar would announce, “Well, I’d better put the roast on!” Usually this would be about 8.30 or 9 o’clock at night and we’d be sitting down at the dining table in the bistro for a roast dinner at midnight.

Edgar loved a party and attending one with Edgar often meant getting home at 5am… even when he was in his 90s.Edgar loved women. He was renowned for turning up at the local Rice Balls with a string of gorgeous young women on his arm. A number of years ago, Edgar said to me, “Annie, if I was twenty years younger, I wouldn’t let you out of my sight.” I did a quick mathematical calculation (Edgar is fifty years older than me), “Edgar,” I said, “If you were FIFTY YEARS younger, you’d be in with a chance.” To which Edgar replied, “Oh Annie, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me!”

Edgar with Annie Barr attending Royal Ascot to watch Black Caviar 2012
Edgar with Squadron Leader Bruce Farquhar
Edgar in Bruce's Hawk Fighter jet 2012
In 2012, I was fortunate enough to accompany Edgar on a trip to England for the Bomber Command Memorial dedication in London. Highlights of that trip for Edgar included meeting the Queen for the second time in his life; watching Black Caviar win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot; having dinner at the Savoy Hotel in London; sitting in the pilot’s seat of a Lancaster bomber for the first time since 1946; attending his 550 Squadron’s reunion and the RAF Waddington International Air Show; visiting the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln and a personal tour of RAF Leeming, the home of 100 Squadron, with the then current Squadron Leader Bruce Farquhar. 




Edgar enjoying a visit with Miffy October 2019
Edgar loved children and welcomed them to Cadell with open arms. Max, Sam and Henry got along with Edgar like a house on fire, right from our very first visit in July 2005. Once we moved to Barham in 2009, Max in particular, spent many weekends with Edgar, often catching the school bus out to Cadell on a Friday afternoon and then back on the bus to school on a Monday morning. (Although this morning, when I was having a practice read at our kitchen table, Max informed me that he never caught the school bus in on a Monday… Edgar used to drive him to school in his big, old Fairmont Ghia, often at breakneck speed!)

Long-time friend, Dr Johnny Howell is unable to be here today but he sent through this email last night explaining how he came to know Edgar:

“Edgar’s sister, Gwen lived opposite my parents in Sydney; that was my first contact with Edgar.

In 1963, I failed second year Medicine at Sydney University – my parents were not happy!

A couple of weeks after the results, I found myself on a DC3 to Deni having been told by Dad “...Edgar Pickles will straighten you out, boy.”

The punishment started right from the jump. Edgar duly arrived in Deni and into the back of the Falcon ute I went (along with some dead wool) for the 50-mile ride to Cadell (the entire road in 1963 was corrugated dirt).

At Cadell Edgar said “You get 30 pounds a month plus keep - and you sleep on the open veranda”.

There followed weeks of digging stops (dig by hand/formwork/mix concrete by hand/pour) at the rate of one a day. Then it was endless sessions on that effing****#! Little blue Fordson tractor (which Edgar bought in Shepparton and drove nonstop to Cadell-he said it took him forever.) I told him the work was purgatory and he told me “this was the easy bit”. After a while, we got on really well together owing to the fact, in those days, I could drink Edgar under the table. Cadell turned out to be like a “New Year’s Eve party” every night.

I returned to Cadell every summer until the senior medical years and then regularly for over fifty years.

Punctuality and Edgar, rarely belonged in the same sentence. “Edgar Time” was anywhere between three hours and three days behind Eastern Standard Time.

I once asked Edgar when we were blotto, what was the greatest love of his life; without hesitation he replied, “The Rolls Royce Merlin engine!!”

Annie, both of us are very fortunate to have known Edgar - he was unique. He was a true warrior and a loyal friend.

Regards,
Johnny”

A few days before Edgar died, I was up at Murray Haven visiting him. Edgar had been asleep for most of the day. Gwennie, Kate and I were sitting around his bed talking, after about an hour or more, Edgar opened his eyes, gave us one of his big trademark smiles, turned to me and said, “Hello Annie, you look well… give us a kiss!” (I did) The four of us laughed and talked for about fifteen minutes before Edgar squeezed my hand and said, “Give us another kiss.” To which I replied, “Oh come on Edgar, you’re milking it now!” (I gave him another kiss) We all talked for a few more minutes before we said our goodbyes for the afternoon and Edgar slipped off to sleep once more.

Edgar loved his community and his community loved him. In his later years, Edgar had a team of locals assisting and caring for him, and I would like to make special mention of our dedicated professionals at Barham Hospital and Community Health, Murray Haven, Damien Congram who assisted him at Cadell and also accompanied Edgar on his last epic adventure to England and France last year with Edgar’s niece, Kate; Wendy, Josie and the team from home care.

Annie attending the 550 Squadron Reunion with Edgar in the UK 2012
It has been a great honour to be asked to write and deliver a eulogy for Edgar here today and a seemingly impossible task to condense his almost 99 years of extraordinary life into a few sheets of paper. This is but a snippet of his many stories and adventures and the thousands of people who knew and loved him. I will leave you now with Edgar’s immortal words, “Merry Christmas and God bless.”


Edgar Lewis Pickles 10.11.1920 - 20.10.2019

7 comments:

  1. A great character and neighbour across the Wakool River from our farm. Loved the sound of that Packard Merlin in his P-51 when he took it up for a spin along the Wakool River -Just to frighten away the ducks of course.

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    1. Of course!! Thank you for sharing one of your memories of Edgar.

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  2. Was Navigator in Edgars 2nd tour crew(with 2 other crew members who had done a firsttour in 51 Squadron June - November1943 with meI) He visited me at my bungalow in Ripley,Woking,Surrey when he was in England April 2018. We had not seen each other for72years! Ishall be 97 in November8th so we had almost 2 years different in or ages. Ibelieve all other crew members have now died. I was demobbed from RAF June 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant DFC*.

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    1. Edgar was so thrilled to meet you again in 2018. So many memories. Thank you Peter for taking the time to comment.
      Kind regards,
      Annie Barr

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  3. Thank you for sharing this Annie. Andrew's father, Peter,knew Edgar well and could tell you some more entertaining stories no doubt.
    He was planning on going to the funeral but had a fall himself two days before going out to get the newspaper on the front lawn, damaged his hip and hasn't been able to get far since. He will LOVE reading this as he had asked me if I could possibly find a copy for him. Take care Annie. I can imagine how much you will miss Edgar. Tarsh xx

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Tarsh. I think we will be reminiscing and telling “Edgar stories” for decades to come!

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  4. Thank you. I have never read such an inspiring eulogy. To read of his life and achievements was a privilege. As is said; "they don't make 'em like that anymore"

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