New Zealander, Edgar James ‘Cobber’ Cain was a WW2 Ace with RAF 73 Squadron. He was also the first RAF pilot awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during the Second World War.
He was born in June 1918 in the town of Hastings, on the North Island of New Zealand. And from an early age dreamed of learning to fly. Kain trained at Wellington Aero Club where, at the age of 18, he earned his Civil Pilot’s License.
Wanting to continue his flying career, he applied to the Royal Air Force for a short-term commission and was accepted in March 1937.
He soon found himself on the other side of the world, posted to RAF Sealand in England for flight school training. And in November of 1937 he was assigned to RAF 73 Squadron, learning to fly the Gloster Gladiator fighter and later the Hawker Hurricane.
Kain relocated to France when his squadron became part of the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) based near Reims in the Marne region.
At first he flew fighter patrols and escort for aerial reconnaissance units. But as the Germans advanced on Belgium and France, RAF 73 squadron found itself attacking transport columns and major strategic targets in an effort to disrupt the enemy’s advance.
In March 1940 Cobber Kain was on fighter patrol with his No.2, Sgt. Donald A Sewell, when they spotted a group of enemy Heinkel HE-111 bombers above them. They gave chase, ending up deep inside Germany territory, where an enemy fighter attacked them from behind. They managed to outfly and eventually knock down the attacking plane.
But Kain’s Hurricane was badly damaged.
With fumes and smoke rapidly filling his cockpit, he managed to keep his plane flying long enough to land in Allied territory behind the Maginot line.
For his bravery and aerial combat success against the enemy, Kain received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the doctors grounded him for a week to recover, he was back flying again. And on his first patrol, downed two enemy planes on the Western Front. However, during this sortie he was attacked again by fighters and this time his plane went down in flames.
To observers on the ground, it seemed he had been killed.
But again, Cobber Kain survived.
He managed to get out of his burning plane and parachute to safety. And despite severe burns to his face and shrapnel wounds in his leg and hand, found his way back to his airfield.
Kain recovered and continued to fly combat missions with his squadron, across northern France, with shrapnel still buried deep in his leg.
The Battle of France started on May 10, 1940 when German forces invaded France and pushed Allied troops back to the Normandy coast. During this episode of intense fighting, the RAF flew combat missions almost non-stop, in an effort to slow down the enemy advance.
Cobber Kain scored 17 enemy aircraft victories during this time.
But he was physically exhausted. So his RAF chief assigned him to a specialist flying instructor role back in England.
Sadly, just hours after learning he was returning to England for a few months, Kain was killed in a flying accident.
Climbing into his fighter, he made the fateful decision to do a few farewell aerobatics in front of his mates, over their base at Echemines airfield.
Perhaps to blow off steam, or relief at the thought of returning to the relative peace of England for a short period.
As he completed a loop, the wing of his fighter touched the ground and it crashed, killing him instantly.
He was 22 yrs old. With over 25 enemy kills to his credit during his short time with the RAF.
Kain was buried with full honors in Choloy War cemetery, Choloy-Menillot, in the Meurthe-et-Moselle region of France.