Whether Charlie Edwards was nicknamed ‘Corkscrew’ because of his bandy legs, or whether the name referred to his erratic flying technique, is a moot point. Charles Hugh Edwards first came to East Africa in the late 1920s and he soon established himself as a character. He was a keen horse racer: the first horse he owned being ‘Make Haste.’ He claimed to have run in the Grand National and he was also the owner of ‘Pretty Poll’ in 1930, when he was living at Kakamega running a bar called the Corkscrew Inn. But Charlie misbehaved on the racetrack and was warned off for life.
One day he had a large bet with another man in Torrs Hotel that he could get into a racecourse and place a bet, which, of course, he was not allowed to do, since his ban prevented him from entering the racecourse. He went to GD Fleming and his wife for assistance. Fleming takes over the story: ‘He had bought or borrowed a grey wig, an old dowager’s hat covered in flowers, a long dress with high neck (boned), and a pair of high-heeled black buckled shoes and grey stockings, an umbrella and handbag. We had the difficult job of making him up with cosmetics. The powder would not stick to his large hooked nose, his lips were so thin there was no room for lipstick, and he had almost no eyelashes to black. His eyebrows were thick and bushy. We eventually succeeded, and I have never seen such a shocking sight. He looked like a drink-sodden, wicked old woman of about 70, trying to be young. His very red complexion showed through the powder, giving a mauve shade, and his large nose, rather parrot-like, and thin mouth completed the picture. However he no longer looked like Chas. Edwards, and my wife took him to the races as her aunt! He placed his bet and watched the race. I am not sure what happened then, but I think he sneezed; off came his wig and hat together – and Charlie took to his heels! With several stewards in hot pursuit, Charlie made for the gate as quick as his high heels would permit, with his skirt pulled well up, showing his bandy, hairy legs. I doubt whether Nairobi racecourse had seen – or ever will see again – a sight to equal Charlie’s exit. But he won his bet!’
Charlie had timber concessions in the Butere forest and was logging timber and selling it to the Kakamega gold mines. He had a transport business from Nairobi or Kisumu supplying goods to the goldfields by truck. He also employed a man there to pan for gold and struck lucky, making quite a profit – he claimed to have gained £14,000. He soon opened a rondavel hotel called the Pig and Whistle. But his real passion, apart from horses, was flying planes. So he used some of the money to buy a Gypsy Moth in which he taught himself to fly. He was now able to fly backwards and forwards between his mine and Nairobi. However, he could not stop himself from performing highly dangerous acrobatics in the plane.
Corkscrew Edwards performed highly dangerous acrobatics in his plane.
Despite warnings, he continued to fly recklessly and the inevitable happened – in 1938 he got into a spin right over his mine shaft, hit a gantry and crashed, killing himself and his passenger. What he was doing was showing off to a wedding party at the Corkscrew. Unfortunately his wife, whom he had married in 1936, was one of the guests and witnessed the death.
Some information in this piece comes from Blue is the Sky by GD Fleming. Edwards also appears in Peter Ayre’s East African Biographical Database which is to be put on the internet in due course.