Hugh “Jumbo” Edwards went up to Christ Church College, Oxford from Westminster School and rowed in the Oxford boat as freshman in 1926 when his brother was also a member of the crew. Unfortunately, Edwards collapsed when the Dark Blues held a slight lead and Cambridge went on to win by five lengths. In 1927, Edwards was rusticated for failing his examinations and he then spent two years as a schoolmaster although he continued to row regularly with the London Rowing Club. While he was teaching, Edwards decided to follow his brother into the Royal Air Force and the only avenue open to him by which he could secure a permanent commission was to return to Oxford and obtain a University degree. So in 1930, Edwards went back to Oxford, took his degree and then joined the RAF the following year. During his second period at Oxford, he devoted more time to flying than to rowing and obtained Proctorial License No. 1 which enabled him to keep his private plane at the University. However, he was still good enough to command a place in the Oxford boat and five years after his first appearance he rowed again in the 1930 Boat Race. Referring to the 1930 race, Edwards later wrote, “I was incomparably the best oarsman in either crew” but apparently his Oxford colleagues could not match his talents as Cambridge won by two lengths. Later in 1930, Edwards was in the London Rowing Club crew that won the Grand and the Stewards’ at Henley and he then went to Canada for the British Empire Games where he won gold medals in the coxless fours and the eights. In 1931 he won three events at Henley – the Grand, the Stewards’ and the Goblets. At the 1932 Olympics he became only the second man in Olympic history to win two rowing gold medals on the same day. First he won the coxless pairs with Lewis Clive and then he was a member of the winning crew in the coxless fours, having been brought in as a late substitute for Thomas Tyler who contracted influenza after arriving in California. All these victories added up to a remarkable display of stamina for a man who had collapsed in the 1926 Boat Race.
After being commissioned into the RAF in 1931, Edwards became a well-known racing pilot and, in his own plane, finished second in the King’s Cup of 1935. During the war, he served with Coastal Command, winning the AFC in 1943 and the DFC the following year. In 1943 his rowing ability literally saved his life. Being forced to ditch his Liberator off Land’s End he rowed a dinghy for four miles before getting clear of the minefield in which he had landed. He was the only survivor of his crew. Group Captain Edwards retired from RAF in 1946 and soon developed a reputation as an innovative coach. He advised his old University on a number of occasions, including 1959 when his son David was in the Oxford crew, and he also coached Britain’s Olympic eight in 1960.
Both David and his brother John were members of the Welsh coxless four that won medals at both the 1958 and 1962 Commonwealth Games.