Edgar Pickles

ZEST, ENTHUSIASM AND DETERMINATION is based on a story written by Janet Mathewson from the Deniliquin Creative Writers Group. It was narrated by Spencer McGill and produced by The Shack Studios, Deniliquin.

The story was inspired by the experiences of Pilot Officer Edgar Lewis Pickles from Barham, Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross during WW2.

The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.

By Janet Mathewson

I am Edgar Pickles from Barham, and I flew 50 missions over Europe between 1943 and 1945, and I can still remember the constant excitement and danger of commanding one of the most technologically sophisticated pieces of machinery in the British war effort ‑ the Lancaster bomber. It was very dangerous as the Germans were extremely accurate with their cannon fire and planes were constantly ripped apart in the air.

The Jerries could sit off with their cannons at 800 yards and just pick you off. You’d just see this little bit of tracer across the sky and the little flame about two-thirds of the way along the aircraft and the next thing, you’d see it going down in flames. You always wondered if you would be next, and it was fear and adrenaline that kept you going. The brain became cold and analytical, and you simply kept doing what you did best – flying your bomber to the next target, or doing your best to get yourself and your crew home safely and in one piece.

Lancaster bomber crews were highly vulnerable to fighter attack, search lights and anti-aircraft fire as most missions were flown at night without navigation lights and collisions with other Lancaster’s and the threat of falling debris were constant hazards.

I rose through the ranks from Flight Sergeant to Squadron Leader in less than three years, from 1943 to 1945. This was not due only to my skill in the air, as it was to the number of officers who were killed in Bomber Command. The death tally was huge as we were so vulnerable in the air to the German gunfire.

I was operating towards the end of the war, and our losses weren’t as bad then as earlier in the conflict. We did 15 trips on our first tour and we were the senior crew on the squadron. We’d lost the entire squadron except for two crews by the end of that tour.

I survived two tours but some of my men who flew with me were not so fortunate. One night during the summer of 1943 we were flying in a raid over Hamburg. Out of nowhere in the darkness Luftwaffe fighters emerged and opened fire on our Lancaster. Two of the crew were killed and another seriously injured. We now only had four out of seven crewmen able to operate and defend the aircraft but somehow, we dodged the fighters and nursed our plane safely back to England. For this I was awarded my first Distinguished Flying Cross. I was 22 years old.

At the end of the war I was awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation read for my “zest, enthusiasm and determination for operational flying displayed during the worst winter weather, and in the face of the enemy’s heaviest defences”.