Flying Officer Edgar James, 'Cobber', Kain
Cobber' Kain was born in Hastings on 27 June 1918. Following school, he worked as a clerk in his father's warehousing business in Wellington.
In 1936 he obtained his private pilot's licence with the Wellington Aero Club before leaving New Zealand in November for London to join the RAF. Kain began his flying training in January 1937 and in late November was posted to 73 Squadron. Re-equipped with Hurricanes in 1938, the squadron was fully operational by March 1939 and on 24 August was ordered to mobilise for war.
Four days after war was declared 73's sixteen Hurricanes flew across the Channel to France. On 10 September 1939 Kain flew his first operational patrols, but saw no enemy activity. On a defensive patrol on 8 November Kain spotted a Do 17 reconnaissance aircraft ahead and above him. It began to climb and Kain followed, making two attacks but seeing no results. At 27,000 feet, with his Hurricane showing signs of strain, he attacked again and the Dornier dived steeply. Kain followed but pulled out when he saw fabric peeling off his wings. The Dornier crashed into a village, exploding on impact and killing the crew.
On 23 November he shot down another Do 17. Due to bad weather there was little flying in December, January and February. On 1 March 1940 Kain fought an action with two Bf 109's. His Hurricane was already damaged when he shot the first one down in flames. The second fighter attacked him, stopping the Hurricane's engine with a cannon shell but then flew off, leaving Kain to glide thirty miles from 20,000 feet to reach French territory. When his engine caught fire Kain prepared to bale out but got back in his seat when he saw his parachute strap was not in position. Fortunately the flames went out and Kain glided on to a forced-landing on Metz aerodrome.
On 23 February Kain received a Mention in Dispatches and in mid-March he was awarded the DFC. He was by now the centre of a blaze of publicity and his was a household name. On March 26 Kain destroyed a BF 109 and probably a second but then with his own engine on fire he baled out, with shell splinters to his left leg, a bullet-grazed left hand and burns to the face.
Kain went on leave to England on 2 April and before he returned his engagement was announced. Back with the squadron he damaged a Bf 110 on the 23rd. German air activity now intensified and on 10 May 1940 the blitzkrieg was launched. In the next ten days Kain destroyed five more enemy aircraft and probably destroyed or damaged another five.
On 22 May he was posted back to England. With other pilots he left early on the 23rd but on arrival Kain and another pilot were ordered to report back to 73 Squadron at once. They were put on administrative duties and Kain did not fly again until the 25th, when he destroyed a Do 17 but had to make an emergency landing in his damaged Hurricane. He destroyed an HS 126 on the 26th and another DO 17 on the 27th.
Kain continued to fly as his unit retreated from one airfield to the next and on 5 June he shot down a Bf 109. On the 7th he was ordered to return to England immediately. The following morning a group gathered to bid him farewell as he took off in his Hurricane to fly to Le Mans to collect his kit. Whether he felt that those watching below expected him to put on a last show will never be known but he performed a series of low level aerobatics before crashing into the ground. The Hurricane broke up and Kain, fatally injured, was thrown clear.
Kain's official score is fourteen confirmed victories but was more likely to be between fifteen and twenty. Whatever the true facts may be, 'Cobber' Kain - as the first Allied ace of the war - had ensured his place in history.