Brandon hero's story to be retold

THE spectre of war is all too familiar for thousands of families across the country, but for one, the history of a distinguished soldier is about to be brought back to life.

THE spectre of war is all too familiar for thousands of families across the country, but for one, the history of a distinguished soldier is about to be brought back to life.

Brandon boy Fred Edwards grew up as any other youngster and worked on the land before joining the army in 1933 at the age of just 18.

Born in 1915, he met northerner Elsie Cocker in London and married before the second world war, during which he became a much-decorated and respected hero to those around him.

The history of Sgt Edwards, who fought in the distinguished 9th Queen's Royal Lancers, only recently came to light when his grandson, also Fred Edwards, dusted off boxes of memorabilia.

It has now led to a display of his achievements at the 9/12th Royal Lancers Museum in Derby, to be unveiled on Saturday.

The regiment, which merged in 1960 with the 12th Royal Lancers, was most renowned for its second world war battles in North Africa and particularly El Alamein, which ultimately led to the German surrender in North Africa in May 1943, and in which Sgt Edwards was prominent.

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Tank commander Sgt Edwards was consequently awarded one of the highest honours for bravery, the Military Medal, not once but twice.

In a citation dated June 21, 1942, signed illegibly by the then Commander in Chief of Middle East Forces, Sgt Edwards was said to have shown “outstanding determination and courage, with complete disregard of his own personal safety”.

It said: “During the period 12 to 14 June, Sgt Edwards was continuously in the forefront of the battle showing the greatest determination and skill in the handling of his tank.

“On the 14th June this NCO's [non- commissioned officer] tank, together with the acting squadron leader were the only two great tanks left to fight. They fought side by side continuously throughout the day and by 20:00 hours, although surrounded by enemy tanks, had not given up a single yard of ground.

“In addition, it was entirely due to this NCO's efforts that on the previous evening the crew from another burning great tank were rescued whilst under intensive fire.”

In the second, dated May 17, 1943, Sgt Edwards, while in Tunisia, was said to have shown the “utmost courage” when he rescued three badly wounded men across dangerous and open ground.

Despite his decoration, Sgt Edwards was left in poor health as a result of wounds suffered in 1943 and, although he remained in the army until 1946, did not return to the front. He was later dismissed.

His grandson, Mr Edwards, 46, director of AMT Coffee, from Henley-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire, said: “He was only 30 at this stage and it must have been difficult for him because he had been in the army all his life.

“I have letters he wrote seeking work and I know he became a carpet fitter for a while before running hotels in Blackburn and Blackpool with my grandmother.”

According to those who knew him, Sgt Edwards hardly ever spoke of his experiences and his medals remained in their original boxes until recently. He died in Kirkham, Lancashire, aged just 48 in August 1963 and was described by the local paper as a “modest hero”.

In fact, it was only a chance conversation between Mr Edwards and a lawyer in the Territorial Army which led to the rediscovery and recognition that Sgt Edwards twice received the Military Medal - an achievement which remains unique in his regiment.

Mr Edwards added: “Although he died just before I was born, it was always clear to me that he was something of a hero to my own father.

“The family is immensely proud of him and grateful to the regiment for taking such an interest in one of their former comrades. I hope that by making the medals and mementos available for others to see, his heroic deeds will inspire other people too.”

Sgt Edwards' medals, together with photos and letters, will be unveiled by the Derby museum on Saturday.

Chairman of the trustees of the regimental museum, Capt Glyn Jones, said: “He was undoubtedly one of the regimental greats and I am so glad that we now have the physical means to give him the recognition he deserves.”