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William Reid (VC)

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William Reid VC (December 21, 1921 – November 28, 2001) received the Victoria Cross in 1944, for conspicuous bravery during a bombing raid against Düsseldorf. During the 200 mile flight, his Lancaster was was subject to two separate fighter attacks which caused severe damage, wounded him severely, killed the navigator, and fatally wounded the radio operator, but Reid flew on to the target and drop his bombs, and return home.

William Reid was born in Main Street, Baillieston, to the east of Glasgow, on December 21, 1921, son of William, a blacksmith. He attended Swinton Primary School, Baillieston, then Coatbridge Higher Grade School where studied metallurgy, but then applied to join the RAF. He received his wings after training in Canada, becoming a sergeant and commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on June 19, 1942. He trained on twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords at Little Rissington, then transferred to the Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF North Luffenham, where his skill as a pilot led to his selection as an instructor, flying the Vickers Wellington, with the prospect of being posted to an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber unit. He received his promotion to flying officer on December 19, 1942. The bomber unit posting did not take place until July 1943, when he was sent to 1654 Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, near Newark-on-Trent, where he flew his first operational mission as second pilot, in a Lancaster of 9 Squadron, in a raid on Mönchengladbach. In September he was posted to 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston, Newark, to commence Lancaster bombing operations, and flew seven sorties to various German cities before flying to Düsseldorf.

Reid also had two brothers. Both joined the RAF, but were both lost in action over Germany.

Victoria Cross

William Reid was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on June 11, 1944.

Air Ministry, 14th December, 1943.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

Acting Flight Lieutenant William REID (124438), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 61 Squadron.

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.

Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot's windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner's hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay he managed to return the Messerschmitt's fire and it was driven off.

During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.

Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke Wulf 190. This time, the enemy's fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.

Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorised his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer, who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain's injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.

Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semi-consciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-air-craft fire over the Dutch coast. The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on.

Wounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.
- The London Gazette Issue 36285, third supplement, December 10, 1943.[1]

Recovery and further service

After a period in hospital, Reid recovered from his injuries and returned to active duty. His skill and determination led to a posting with C Flight, 617 (Dambuster) Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa. in January 1944 and flew sorties to various targets in France. He was promoted to substantive flight lieutenant on June 14, 1944.

On July 31, 1944, 617 Squadron joined with 9 Squadron to carry out a deep penetration daylight bombing raid on a V1 weapon storage dump at Rilly-la-Montagne, to the east of Paris near Rheims, using Barnes Wallis' Tallboy bomb. As Reid released his bomb at 12,000 feet above the target, he felt his aircraft shudder under the impact of another bomb which had been dropped by another Lancaster flying above his. Flying 6,000 feet above (or 18,000 feet in some accounts), a follow up group of Lancasters had released their bombs early. The bomb ploughed through the fuselage of Reid's aircraft, severing all the control cables and fatally weakening its structure, but did not explode - Reid gave the order to bail out. As his crew scrambled out, the aircraft went into a dive which pinned Reid to his seat. Reaching overhead, he managed to release the escape hatch panel and struggled out just as the Lancaster broke in two and the nose section fell away. He landed heavily by parachute, breaking his arm in the fall. Within an hour he was captured by a German patrol and taken prisoner. After various transfers, he ended the war in Stalag III-A prisoner of war camp at Luckenwalde, west of Berlin.


In 1946, he was demobilised (retained a reserve commission until January 15, 1949), and resumed his studies. First at the University of Glasgow, and later at the West of Scotland Agricultural College. He graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1949, and went on a travelling scholarship for six months, studying agriculture in India, Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada.

In 1950, he became an agricultural adviser to the MacRobert Trust, Douneside.

From 1959 until his retirement in 1981, he was an adviser to a firm of animal feed manufacturers.

Reid appeared in episode 12 of The World at War, Whirlwind – Bombing Germany (September 1939 – April 1944), during which he describes in detail the mission for which he received his Victoria Cross.

Reid married Violet Campbell Gallagher in 1952. Her father was William Gallagher, sports editor of the Glasgow Daily Record. Violet is said to have been unaware of her partner's Victoria Cross until after their marriage.

William Reid died on November 28, 2001, aged 79, survived by his wife two children, and was buried at Creiff Cemetery, Perthshire.

A memorial stands in the town centre of Hamilton as a tribute to the fourteen men from the County of Lanarkshire who have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Each has their own dedication on a marble block forming an arch.

Flight Lieutenant, 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. 1943 over Dusseldorf. Born 21 December 1921, Baillieston, Glasgow, Scotland. Died 28 November 2001, Crieff, Tayside, Scotland. Buried in St Andrew and St Michael's Churchyard, Crieff.

REID, William A/Flight Lieutenant, 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

Although Bill Reid joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1940, he didn’t fly his first operational flight until August 1943 as, after initial training in America, his skills were put to use as an instructor. Flying with 61 Squadron, Reid flew nine sorties before the mission which earned him his VC.

On 3 November, as Reid’s Lancaster crossed the Dutch coast heading for Düsseldorf, an Me110 attacked from dead astern, shattering the windscreen and cockpit and damaging both gun turrets. Reid was hit in the head and shoulder and his face was cut by shards-of Perspex but he managed to right the aircraft and flew on.

In a second attack, a Focke-WuIf 190 raked the length of the plane, killing the navigator and mortally wounding the wireless operator — and Reid too was again wounded. ‘We were really hit this time and we started to spin down. Everything went dead in my ears; there was no intercom — nothing My hands were a bit bloody - skinned, really, when the windscreen had shattered.’

Aided by the flight engineer, Norris, Reid brought the plane back under control — but with the oxygen system ruptured and the hydraulics damaged any normal pilot would have turned for home. Reid decided, however, to press on to the target, but without a navigator he had to rely on his memory of the route to reach the target He made the target, dropped the bombs and headed for home, navigating by the stars.

Back at the Dutch coast, they again came under heavy anti-aircraft fire and suddenly all four engines cut out The Lancaster went into a spin. By now, Reid was lapsing into unconsciousness due to loss of blood and lack of oxygen. Only his pilot's instinct reminded him to change over petrol cocks to full engine. The engines surged back to life and they headed back to England. Over the USAAF airbase at Shipham in Norfolk, Reid had to wind down the landing gear by hand - and it collapsed on contact with the ground causing the Lancaster to slither on its belly 60 feet along the runway before coming to a halt.

In hospital he was visited by Air Vice Marshal Cochrane, who asked him why he didn’t turn back. Reid said that he thought it safer to go on rather than turning back among all the other planes all flying in the same direction. Cochrane told Reid that the early returns from operations had since his raid been practically nil. He then added: 'It's as if they all said, “That bugger, Jock, he went on even though he was badly wounded, so we can’t turn back just because of a faulty altimeter, or something like that.”’

After recovering from his wounds, Reid joined 617 Squadron with Leonard Cheshire - and on his first flight he fouled up his landing knocking the tail off the plane. Despite Cheshire’s sympathetic attitude, he had no choice but to put an endorsement in Reid’s logbook Reid recalled later being surely ‘the only pilot to get a Victoria Cross on one trip and a red endorsement on the next.’

Asked how he came to terms with the stress of the endless bombing missions, he explained, ‘Before a raid, I made a point of never writing letters, because you would naturally find yourself thinking “Will this be my last ever letter?” When you lost people who were your closest friends, the danger certainly came home to you. If you’d thought it would happen to you, too, you’d simply never have been able to fly again.’

In July 1944, on a raid on a weapons store near Rheims, Reid’s aircraft was hit by a bomb failing from a Lancaster 6,000 feet above him. This severed all control cables and Reid had no choice but to bale out. He landed safely, but saw out the rest of the war as a prisoner of war—at first in Stalag Luft Ill and then, as the Allies advanced, in a camp nearer to Berlin.

After the war Reid left the RAF to go to Glasgow University, then the West of Scotland Agricultural College, following which he worked for twenty years as national cattle and sheep adviser for Spillers Farm Feeds. A founder member of the Air Crew Association, this modest and courageous man stayed in touch throughout his life with the veterans who shared his sense of comradeship from his days in the RAF. It is a mark of Reid’s modesty, too, that when he married in 1952, he never mentioned his Victoria Cross to his wife. When she found out she owned to being ‘a wee bit impressed’.

A memorial plaque was unveiled in Baillieston public library in September 2008.

His Victoria Cross was sold by auction on November 19, 2009, by medal specialists Spink, achieving a record price for a VC awarded to someone from the United Kingdom - £290,000 excluding commission and VAT.


1 The London Gazette Issue 36285, third supplement. December 10, 1943



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