Ronald Edwards (1914-1995) was involved in the Battle of Monte Cassino as an army chaplain. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his courage in rescuing wounded men.
Edwards was the son of a clergyman; he was born in Pontardawe. He attended Rochdale High School, before reading theology at St David’s College, Lampeter. He was known as a good sportsman; he captained the rugby club, and also played cricket and golf. He was an active member of the dramatic and debating societies. After completing his education, he worked as a curate in Manchester from 1938 to 1942. While there, he married Olive Mills; they had a son and a daughter.
Edwards then volunteered to be a chaplain in the forces. He served with the 1st Army in Africa, the 8th Army in Italy and then in Greece. He had a very high expectation of himself, writing to his wife ‘Each one of us will need his utmost strength and courage and I must be the last to show any evidence of fear.’
He spent the whole of the Battle of Monte Cassino on the forward line with the troops, under heavy fire from shells, mortars and machine guns. In particular, he swam three times across the River Gari, near Cassino, to take medical supplies and to rescue wounded soldiers. On May 12, Edwards collected wounded men from several battalions; he spent most of that night encouraging troops. The next day he was told that between thirty and forty wounded men were pinned down on the other side of the river. All the assault boats had been either sunk or damaged. Edwards immediately volunteered to swim across to see what help could be given. Tying a signal cable round his waist, he swam through the rough water. He then hauled a doctor across with a supply of splints and dressings. The two men first attempted to help a pair of wounded officers. Following this, Edwards returned to the river to see if he could find a boat to rescue the casualties.
Finding no suitable vessel, Edwards swam back across the river. There he helped to try to salvage an assault boat. However, the attempt had to be abandoned, due to heavy shellfire. He then saw a boat mid-stream, but entangled in ropes. Again, he swam out with a line tied round him. Despite the mortar bombs and shellfire all round him, he was at last able to free the craft and haul it to the opposite shore. It was then used to rescue the wounded.
Edwards was later to remember, ‘On one of the trips across the river with two wounded infantrymen, we were fired upon by a Spandau. I stood up and waved the Red Cross flag. Here let me say a word for the Hun. Apart from isolated instances which might easily have been accidents, he observed faithfully the Red Cross flag.’
He was awarded an immediate DSO. The citation read, ‘His actions were instrumental in saving the lives of some of the wounded and reducing the period of suffering of others. He was an inspiration to all, and his courageous action saved valuable time for the wounded.’ Edwards told his wife only that he had had ‘the most exciting and thrilling day in my life.’ Not wanting to frighten her, he did not let her know what he had done! She only learned the details from the press a couple of months later; Edwards was embarrassed about the publicity!
Edwards was demobilised in 1946 and became rector of St Paul’s, Higher Blackley, Manchester. He moved on to Ashton-on-Ribble, Preston in 1950. Two years later the Chaplain General asked him to rejoin the forces. He was posted to the Guard’s Training Battalion at Pirbright. He was then attached to 32 Guards Brigade in the Canal Zone, before serving in Tripolitania. He returned to Britain in 1957 as chaplain and lecturer at Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot. He became Senior Chaplain at Blandford in 1962 and then Senior Chaplain to British Forces in Belgium in 1964.
Edwards left the army in 1965. He was known for his kindness, understanding and sense of fun and had been enormously popular with those who came under his pastoral care.
Edwards spent the next eleven years as chaplain at the Licensed Victuallers School at Slough. He died in September 1995.
Daily Telegraph. "The Reverend Ronald Edwards." Daily Telegraph, 11 Sept. 1995, p. 21. Available from: https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IO0701418537/TGRH?u=nlw_ttda&sid=TGRH&xid=debfd524. [Accessed 14 May 2020]
Robinson, A.C. (2008). Chaplains at war: the role of clergymen during World War II. London: Tauris Academic Studies