b. 03/07/1915 Inanda, South Africa. d. 23/02/1945 Limburg, Belgium.
Edwin Essery Swales was one of four children born in Inanda, Natal, South Africa to Harry Evelyn Swales, who was a farmer in the Heatonville district, and Olive Essery. Following the death of her husband in the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, Mrs Swales and her children moved to the Berea, Durban. Here, Edwin Swales attended Durban High School (DHS). As a young lad, Edwin had also been a member of the Boy Scout movement (4th Durban Scout Troop). After leaving school, and prior to the Second World War, Edwin Swales worked for Barclays Bank (Dominion Colonial and Overseas - DCO) in Durban. Swales had joined the Natal Mounted Rifles before the War, rising to the rank of Sergeant Major, (officially, a Warrant Officer, 2nd Class). With the N.M.R., in the early part of the War, he saw action in Kenya, Abyssinia and in North Africa. He then transferred to the South African Air Force on 17 January 1942.
Swales was also very keen on sport generally, and enjoyed rugby. He played for both civilian (pre-war) and various military teams. After playing for the DHS 2nd XV, he later played rugby for a number of South African and Dominion teams, whilst he was in the United Kingdom, during the War years. He played for Griquas when he had been posted to Kimberley for training. He was also a reserve for the Natal rugby team, without ever actually playing for the province. He received his wings at Kimberley on 26 June 1943. On 22 August 1943, he was seconded to the Royal Air Force (RAF) whilst retaining his South African Air Force uniform and rank.
Following successful period of training on heavy bombers, Swales was posted, in June 1944, to the elite RAF Pathfinder Force (with 582 Squadron), part of No. 8 Pathfinder Group, at Little Staughton, in Huntingdonshire. It was normal for the Pathfinders to accept only experienced pilots who had completed a full tour on bombers. Although Swales had never spent any time as a bomber pilot in a standard heavy bomber squadron, Swales went straight into the Squadron.
Swales' first operational flight for 582 Squadron was on 12 July 1944. Newly promoted to Captain on 4 November 1944, he took part in a daring daylight bombing raid on 23 December, on the Gremberg railway yards, Cologne, Germany. The Squadron Leader for the raid on Cologne was his close friend, Robert Palmer, D.F.C., who normally flew Mosquitos with 109 Squadron, also based at Little Staughton. Swales was the number two Pathfinder, leading the main flight and following Palmer as he marked the target. Palmer, who had completed 110 bombing raids, was killed as his Lancaster was damaged by German fighter and crashed. Six of the 30 aircraft on this operation were lost. Palmer was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross - becoming the 2nd Pathfinder pilot to be so honoured. For his actions on the Cologne raid, Edwin Swales was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In 1945, while with the RAF Pathfinders (No. 582 Squadron), Swales was the Master Bomber and captain of Avro Lancaster III PB538. On 23 February 1945, the very same day as his D.F.C. award was gazetted, Swales led the bombing raid on Pforzheim, Germany (not far from Karlsruhe and the Rhine River), where 17,600 civilians were killed in 22 minutes.Swales' aircraft was attacked by an Me110 whose fire shattered one engine and holed the fuel tanks. They were attacked again by the same fighter which knocked out a second engine. Swales decided to make if not England then friendly territory. The weather closed in and he ordered the crew to bail out. He attempted to put down but his Lancaster stalled and crashed near Valenciennes, west of Prouvy, 3 km SSE of Denain in northern France, killing him.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MILITARY HISTORY MUSEUM, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA.
BURIAL PLACE: WAR CEMETERY, LEOPOLDSBURG, BELGIUM.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT VIII, ROW C, GRAVE 5.
RAF Memorial, St Clements Danes, Aldwych
Swales' medal group in the National Military Museum in Johannesburg. Sadly the VC has subsequently been stolen. (Derek Walker)
National Memorial Arboretum (Andy Wright)
Johan de Jongte
South African Air Force Memorial, Bays Hill, Pretoria
Durban High School (Derek Walker)