2 November 2009

( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Flight Lieutenant William Reid,
61 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1939 - 45 Star
  • Air Crew Europe Star
    • + clasp: "France & Germany"
  • War Medal ( 1939 - 45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )

The Victoria Cross and campaign medals awarded to Flight Lieutenant William Reid, 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, have been sold at auction by the London auctioneer Spink. The VC group realised a hammer price of £290,000 which is a world record for a British Victoria Cross.

The identity of the purchaser has been publicised as being Melissa John who bought the William Reid VC group in memory of her late brother, Christopher John, who was well known as a collector of Royal Air Force medals and whose ambition was to own a Victoria Cross.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 14 December 1943 ] Raid on Düsseldorf, Germany, 3 November 1943, A / Flight Lieutenant William Reid, 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

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

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

After recovering from his injuries, William Reid returned to active duty and because of his skill and determination was rewarded with a posting to No. 617 ( Dambuster ) Squadron, then led by Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire, who would later also win the VC to add to his DSO and DFC.

Reid's war came to an end on 31 July 1944 when he was tasked to carry out a daylight raid on a V1 flying bomb storage site at Rilly la Montagne, to the east of Paris. He accurately dropped his 12,000lb 'Tallboy' bomb on the target but an aircraft of the follow up group bombed early from 18,000 feet above him. One of the bombs struck Reid's outer port engine, without exploding, and a second cut through the fuselage, severing control leads to the ailerons and rudder. As the nose of the Lancaster fell away Reid baled out and was taken prisoner.


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Iain Stewart, 19 November 2009