I heard today the sad news that former Fleet Air Arm pilot Derrick Edwards had died late last year. Derrick had flown a number of Fleet Air Arm types during the second world war, including Grumman Martlets which he flew from escort carriers during the Atlantic convoys. He also flew Fairey Fireflies and Hawker Sea Hurricanes on second-line duties, such as radar calibration. It was during a flight in a ‘fleet requirements’ squadron that Derrick flew under both Menai Bridges, road and rail.
“It was a TAG that dared me to do that, not once but twice,” he said during a conversation with me in 2006. “There was about a foot either side of the prop on top and bottom going under the road bridge, which is a lot lower than the rail bridge. I was mainly doing fleet requirements, which was providing target practice for the fleet.”
Despite these high sprits, Derrick didn’t think much of the Skua. “I didn’t really rate it at all,” he said. “We were warned when we took off, with the mountains to starboard, that if it did more than about 45° bank it would spin in. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I have to say though I didn’t have any problems or accidents. It was what I describe as an old warhorse that had seen its day, and the examples we had were pretty worn out. Blackburn made one or two decent aircraft… I flew the Skua’s ‘big brother’ the Roc for about two-three hours, that had even less stability than the Skua.”
Derrick’s only operational flying was on the Grumman Martlet (later known as the Wildcat) on convoy escort duty. He didn’t have too much trouble from the enemy, but the same wasn’t always true of his ‘allies’.
“What history doesn’t report,” he said, “is when American ships would go off at you. As soon as you were airborne they were popping off at you. We used to beat them up in Scapa Flow to say ‘look at us, we’re like a barrel of beer with two planks stuck on either side’. The Germans didn’t have anything like us at all, but we didn’t look anything like a Swordfish either, which didn’t help.”
The Grumman Wildcat/Martlet – ‘A barrel of beer with two planks on either side’
The Martlet may have been a high performance aircraft compared to the Skua, but it did not necessarily have all mod cons. “It had the same sort of undercarriage as an Anson,” he said, “with a hand-winder on the right-hand side”. The process to retract the undercarriage after take off involved, in Derrick’s words, “going like a so-and-so!”
Derrick’s favourite aircraft was the Hawker Sea Hurricane, which he flew from Woodvale, near Liverpool on radar calibration flights. “We would take off at the crack of dawn, ” he recalled, “head out, turn round and head to a place on the beach where there was a hut. We flew down to wave level. There was a wonderful moment where the sea was in total dark, black like a sheet below and the sun above.”
Blue Skies, Derrick.