Behind the Barr

The Edgar Pickles Story

by Geoff Constantine

Hi all, this has been my good news story for the last couple of months.

Late in 1941, a farming lad by the name of Edgar Pickles, from Rand, 50 km northwest of Albury, enlisted in the RAAF as aircrew. A year later found him in England, in Bomber Command, working his way through Wellingtons, then Halifaxes, then on to Lancasters by April 1943. The next two and a half years for young Edgar were, needless to say, pretty exciting and tumultuous times. (Refer ‘Ploughshares and Propellers’, published 2009 by Bruce Anderson, Kerang, Vic )

Come early 1946, Edgar, now Sqn Ldr Pickles DFC & Bar, with two tours and fifty bombing missions over Germany under his belt, was asked to round up an Aussie crew & ferry a Lincoln bomber to Australia, arriving at Laverton March 28, his last flight in a military aircraft. No doubt more than one larrikin amongst the crew – one brought home an engine from a German staff car which finished up in a speed boat on Sydney Harbour!

Edgar now returned to the family farm, but soon branched out on his own, buying a rice growing property about 25 km east of Barham, on the Deniliquin road. Here he still lives, although he sold the bulk of the property about a year ago. He maintained his interest in aviation over the years, owning a two seater Ryan trainer, then an ex RAAF P51 Mustang which he operated illegally for about twelve years in the early fifties into the sixties. (He bought & sold the Mustang through Arthur Schutt he tells me, for the purchase price of 1300 pounds, selling for 13,000 pounds. A good mark-up but he still regrets selling it!) A ’54 V tail Bonanza followed, which saw out his flying days.

Come 2012 and the poms finally get around to creating a memorial to the men of Bomber Command, with the unveiling due on June 28. Edgar, now 91 years of age and none too steady on his pins due to a car accident fifteen years ago, is getting increasingly restless and keen at the prospect of getting to London to attend this event. Meanwhile the government, in their extraordinary generosity, decide to fly six (or was it eight) veterans across to attend. Eventually, they’re embarrassed into making it thirty, but Edgar is not included in this number, no doubt too many bureaucrats & pollies to be indulged!

Enter one Annie Barr a recently arrived (Barham) lass, working as a remedial massage therapist & Edgar develops a friendship with same while having treatment on his legs. This girl is bright, capable (comes from a property near Hay) & is fully comprehending of what Edgar’s wartime history represents. Edgar, realizing he needs a carer/companion asks her if she would accompany him on the trip. Sorting out her business & family (3 boys aged 10, 12, 14) commitments she agrees, Edgar buys two return tickets to London & they’re away!

Annie writes a weekly column in the local newspaper the “Barham Bridge” & consequently is writing up the trip as duplicated in her Blog. She is a rare specimen as a journalist for she is intent on getting the detail right & it has been fabulous following their trip, taking in a day at Royal Ascot, ( the day Black Caviar ran), various Bomber Command and Squadron events (the Queen shook Edgar’s hand at the unveiling), family get togethers & catching up with old mates, the few who are left.

The days to take note of in Annie’s Blog are May 18, & 25, June 22, & 29 & July 6, the other dates are on local matters of little interest to outsiders. The May articles are particularly interesting, re DVA correspondence, these made their way to Canberra and severely embarrassed some bigwigs. Damned good thing!

I have also been following Annie’s facebook, with over a thousand photos and details of daily happenings, including visits to the BBMF, where Edgar was shoehorned into the cockpit of the airworthy Lanc, invitations to RAF bases and the Waddington Airshow.

All in all, I think, a fabulous story.

Cheers, Geoff.