Monday, July 28, 2014

Don Edy - Course 19

Note: Donald Leslie Edy passed away January 22, 2017 in his 100th year.
(Photo: Retired RAF Flt Lt Don Edy holds a model of a Hawker Hurricane, like the one he flew in North Africa during World War II. LFP/QMI Agency) By Megan Stacey London Free Press (July 24, 2014) In 1944, air force pilot Donald Edy listened from his bunk in a German prisoner of war camp as 76 men slipped into the mouth of a hand-dug tunnel. More than 200 men planned a mass escape from the “inescapable” Stalag Luft III camp in eastern Germany. It was the Great Escape. For prisoners of war — used to the action and adrenaline of war — hatching plans to regain their freedom passed the time and fulfilled a sense of adventure. It was a carefully choreographed routine, Edy said. “You try to escape, you get caught, or maybe you get out. You get brought back, spend a week or two weeks in the cooler, the camp prison. And back into the camp. It was a great adventure.” At least that was the dance played by prisoners and guards until March 24, 1944, the night of the Great Escape, when so many prisoners planned to begin their journey into underground tunnels and outside the camp boundaries to freedom. Edy wasn’t part of the escape efforts — he said he knew it was doomed for failure, so he wasn’t sorry to stay behind that night. “I didn’t figure they’d get very far,’’ he said. ‘‘And of course, most of them didn’t,” Edy said in an interview in his room at Richmond Woods, a retirement home in north London. Edy, and the rest of the PoWs at Stalag Luft III, saw the remains of 50 escapers delivered to the camp a short while later. Their deaths were to serve as a lesson to the other PoWs. “Hitler was furious,” Edy said. “He wanted to shoot every last one of them.”
(Photo: London Free Press newspaper clipping from April 1941) It was a prisoner flea market. The belongings of those slain in the Great Escape were up for auction in the PoW camp. Proceeds were to go to the families of the men who were shot. Edy was looking for something to wear to the theatre when he bought British fighter pilot Thomas Kirby-Green’s tunic. “Ever since I was shot down, I was just in battle dress. I kind of wanted to dress up,” Edy said. The PoWs were surprisingly willing actors, directors and stage crew, launching the Sagan Theatre from within the walls of the camp. Red Cross crates provided the base for 350 theatre seats. Lights were set up, German camp guards were bribed with cigarettes to help create a switch board, and sets were constructed for shows such as Macbeth or George and Margaret. “I was in quite a few of the productions myself,” Edy said. He wanted to look sharp for his on-stage appearances and trips to the theatre. He paid for the tunic by sending a letter to Barclays Bank in England, asking for money to be wired from his account to another. Edy wore the tunic during his time being shuttled to other PoW camps, when he was stuffed into train cars with hundreds of other prisoners. The tunic kept him warm during the Forced March, when 80,000 Allied PoWs were evacuated by way of a march across Europe in the winter of 1945. When he finally returned home to Canada, Edy wore the tunic at his wedding in August 1945.
(Photo: Flt. Lt. Donald Leslie Edy wore the jacket he purchased in a PoW camp auction during his wedding to Millie Jane Carr in London, Ontario, on August 11, 1945.) Reuniting the tunic with the family of Kirby-Green is another tale of the magic of the Internet. Colin Kirby-Green was at an anniversary event for the Great Escape. His father was one of the escapers, Thomas Kirby-Green, shot dead when Colin was only eight. At that anniversary, he discovered a young Canadian pilot purchased his father’s tunic for 100 pounds in the PoW auction. Though Kirby-Green didn’t yet know the man was Don Edy, he began searching online and eventually connected with Edy’s daughter. The 96-year-old Edy has a larger Internet presence than many veterans. His daughter, Barb Edy, corresponds with people all around the world on her father’s behalf, as she runs the website for Edy’s book, Goon in the Block.
It’s a personal account of Edy’s military days, rife with his shocking tales of being shot down over Libya, flying his Hawker Hurricane in northern Africa, wiling away months in PoW camps, and finally, the glorious journey home to London. Kirby-Green’s correspondence with Edy’s daughter was the first indication Edy’s old PoW acquaintance even had a family. “I didn’t even know Tom was married,” Edy said. “I never even gave it a thought.” Edy wrote in a letter to Kirby-Green: “I knew your father in Stalag Luft III, not intimately, but as an acquaintance. He was tall, friendly and very handsome.” Learning about the connection gave Don Edy an idea. Why not return the tunic — now carefully tucked away in a closet — to Kirby-Green’s son in England? “Would be more use to him than it was to me. And of course it was,” Edy said. After about 90 days in transit and $90 in customs fees, Kirby-Green was reunited with his father’s tunic this month. (Photo: Colin Kirby-Green holds the air force jacket belonging to his father, Sqr. Ld. Thomas Kirby-Green, that was returned to him this month by London WWII veteran Don Edy.) “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Don and only wish I could thank him in person,” Kirby-Green wrote in a letter to Edy and his daughter. “Thanks to the Internet but mostly to their kindness they have become like family . . . my cup overflows.” Edy’s other daughter, Jane Hughes, said it’s one of the only items Kirby-Green has from his father’s life. “We grew up with the whole story. Dad’s jacket was always hanging in the attic,” Hughes said. Being able to reunite Kirby-Green with the priceless memento gave them all a thrill, she said. From the Great Escape to the Long March to a London wedding ceremony and finally back across the pond to Kirby-Green’s son in England, the tunic still shows signs of the tailoring Edy did as a PoW. But it’s also an important piece of history. Perhaps more importantly, for Second World War veterans such as Edy and family members like Kirby-Green, it’s a capsule of memories. After the final leg of a journey spanning centuries, battles and continents, the light blue air force tunic is finally home.

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