William "Bill" Reid received one of only 32 Victoria Crosses awarded for heroism during aerial combat in World War II. The son of a blacksmith, Reid was born on 21 December 1921 at Baillieston, Glasgow, Scotland. After completing his education at the Coatbridge Secondary School, he briefly studied metallurgy before applying for and being accepted into the Royal Air Force. In August 1941, he reported to the Initial Training Wing at Newquay, Cornwall, England. He transferred to Moncton, Canada in November, en route to No. 2 British Flying Training School in Lancaster, California, for pilot training. During training, he flew the Stearman PT-13, Vultee BT-13, and the North American AT-6A.
After accumulating a total of 200 hours, Reid received his wings and a commission on 18 June 1942 and returned to England. After two more stops with training units, flying Oxfords and Wellingtons, he was preparing to report to an operational assignment when he was selected to remain as a Wellington instructor pilot. Not until 6 September 1943 did he report to his first operational unit, 61 Squadron at Syerston, Newark, England. Reid flew nine combat missions before climbing aboard Lancaster LM360 on 3 November 1943 for his most famous flight, which earned him the Victoria Cross. Two crewmen were killed, and Reid spent five weeks recuperating from the injuries received on the Dusseldorf mission.
Reid was then posted to 617 Squadron-the famed Dambusters at Woodhall Spa, England, in January 1944. He flew his first combat sortie with the squadron on 18 April 1944, bombing the Juvisy marshalling yards near Paris. On D-Day, he flew a mission to drop "window" anti-radar foil against German air defenses. Many of his missions entailed hauling 12,000 or 14,000 pound Tallboy bombs against V-1 rocket installations, and E-boat and U-boat pens. On 31 July 1944, Reid was flying his 24th combat mission, a sortie against the V-weapon storage dump on a railway at Rilly La Montagne, near Rheims, France, when an errant bomb from another Lancaster penetrated his aircraft and severed the control cables.
Reid's Lancaster entered a steep dive, pinning him to his seat until the aircraft broke apart and he was thrown clear. Only one other crewmember survived the bailout. Reid was captured and held prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III Sagan and later Stalag Luft IV Belaria until May 1945. He left the Royal Air Force in January 1946 to attend West of Scotland Agricultural College. After graduation in 1949, he started a career in agricultural management, from which he retired in 1988.
Flight Lieutenant William "Bill" Reid and his Lancaster crew were among 600 bombers targeted against Dusseldorf on 3 November 1943. After crossing the Dutch coast, their aircraft was attacked by an Me 110 and, shortly thereafter, an FW 190. Despite damage to the port elevator and windscreen, the loss of oxygen and hydraulics, and severe wounds, Reid continued the mission by folding both arms around the steering column to fly. After hitting the target, he navigated back to England using the pole star and the moon. Just after reaching the British coast, he spotted an airfield and made an emergency landing.