ROY BROWN AND STEARNE EDWARDS

Soldiers serving overseas in WW1 looked to their Lodges back home as a symbol of what they were fighting to preserve. Their Lodges were also part of the normal life they were 2 hoping they could resume once the War had ended. A good example can be found in St. John’s Lodge in Carleton Place, where a magnificent Masonic Temple had been erected on the main street of town in 1911, that continues to be a main feature of the local heritage of the community to this day. Two members of that Masonic Lodge were close friends, Roy Brown and Stearne Edwards.

The year 1915 was a milestone in the life of many young Canadian men. The Great War - WW1 was already well under way. Brown and Edwards had become fascinated with the new concept of war in the air. Given that WW1 recruits for the Royal Air Force and Royal Naval Air Service required flying experience, their fathers were able to sponsor them at the flight school run by the Wright brothers in Dayton Ohio.

While he was in Dayton, Brown thought about joining the Lodge. On October 20, 1915 Brown wrote the following in a letter to his father describing his upcoming schedule to finish flying school in the fall. “That may leave me time to catch the November meeting of the Lodge.”

Edwards graduated before Brown, and returned home for a quick visit. He joined the Lodge in October of 1915, before going overseas.

Brown eventually graduated as a pilot and also returned home for a brief visit. On November 22, 1915, he too was initiated into St. John’s Lodge. Brown then left home for the War in Europe, and service in the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. In December 1917, Brown and Edwards were able to return home for a short period on leave and received their 2nd and 3rd Degrees in Masonry together.

Brown became a deadly fighter pilot. He earned the designation of “Ace” when he shot down his 5th enemy aircraft in October 1917, and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in November 1917. By February of 1918 he had become a Flight Leader, and had shot down 9 German aircraft.

Stearne Edwards also earned the designation of “Ace” during WW1, with a total of 16 enemy aircraft. During the War, the 2 friends served together as pilots in the same combat zones, and were able to take some personal time together on leave.

By April 1918, the Germans decided to make a desperate attempt to destroy the Allied forces once and for all. One particular threat to the Allied pilots was the “Flying Circus” the fighter squadron led by a former German cavalry officer named Manfred von Richthofen. He was popularly known as the “Red Baron” due to the bright red colour of his Fokker fighter airplane.

On the morning of April 21, the Allied and German pilots were preparing to fly yet another war patrol. Richthofen’s cousin Wolfram had recently joined the Flying Circus. On the Canadian side, a new pilot Wop May had been sent to fly under Roy Brown’s command. Given the danger in combat to inexperienced pilots, Brown gave strict orders 3 to May that if they encountered German aircraft, May should stay out of combat and circle the action to simply watch and learn.

Later that morning, the German flight engaged a pair of Australian aircraft and was then attacked by Brown’s flight of Sopwith Camel aircraft. Wop May watched as ordered from the distance for a short while. However, he could not contain himself and soon attacked a German aircraft. He had in fact inadvertently attacked the German Fokker flown by Richthofen’s cousin Wolfram.

May’s guns jammed and he was forced to disengage, but the Red Baron spotted May’s attack and set out after the Canadian. May was certain that he was a dead man because he could not get the Red Baron off his tail, but the Red Baron was experiencing trouble with his own machine guns.

Roy Brown, seeing that May was in great danger, was able to come up behind the Red Baron to fire a burst from his machine guns into the Red Baron’s Fokker. The Red Baron was mortally wounded and crashed near the Australian trenches. (The Australians also claim to have shot him down.)

Roy Brown was awarded a bar for his Distinguished Service Cross for shooting down the Red Baron. He left the Royal Flying Corps after WW1, and was involved in operating a small airline in Ontario and Québec. When WW2 broke out he volunteered for service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, but was rejected. He died at the age of 50 in Stouffville Ontario in 1944.

Stearne Edwards was still flying as a combat pilot when WW1 ended on November 11, 1918. On November 12, he took a Sopwith Pup fighter aircraft up for a flight, but crashed. He died of his injuries on November 22.

The Canadian pilot Wop May, whose life was saved that day by Captain Roy Brown, became an “Ace” himself with 13 kills to his credit. During the 1920’s and 30’s he continued to fly as a famous bush pilot in the Canadian North.

Wop May became a Mason after WW1. In 1938, he helped organize a special Masonic meeting in the Canadian Arctic in Kugluktuk, Nunavut Territory, near the present day community of Coppermine. The Grand lodge of Alberta commemorated the event by erecting a plaque that declares this to be the most northerly Masonic meeting ever held.