William “Bill” Reid earned one of only 32 Victoria Crosses awarded for heroism in the air during World War II. The son of a blacksmith, Reid was born 21 December 1921 at Baillieston, Glasgow, Scotland. After completing his studies at the Coatbridge Secondary School, he briefly studied metallurgy before he joined the Royal Air Force. In the summer of 1941, he reported to the Initial Training Wing at Newquay, Cornwall, in the west of England. He was soon transferred to Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, and then was on his way to No. 2 British Flying Training School in California. At Lancaster, in the high desert, Reid first flew the Stearman PT-13 Kaydet, then the Vultee BT-13 Vibrator, and finally the North American AT-6 Texan. After 200 hours in the air, he received his wings and a commission on 18 June 1942 and then returned to England.
He trained further in the Airspeed Oxford and the Vickers-Armstrongs Wellington before becoming an instructor pilot. Finally, on 6 September 1943, Reid reported to his first operational unit, No. 61 Squadron at Syerston, Newark, England. He flew nine combat missions and, on 3 November 1943, climbed aboard Avro Lancaster, LM 360, for his most famous flight. During a 600-bomber night raid against Düsseldorf in Germany’s Ruhr industrial heartland, Luftwaffe fighters crippled Reid’s Lancaster and wounded him in his head, hands, and shoulders. Wrapping his arms around the steering column, he continued forward and dropped all bombs on target. In and out of consciousness, with two crewmen dead, he navigated by the Pole Star and fought to fly his Lancaster across the North Sea and back to England.
After five weeks recovering, Reid was posted to No. 617 Squadron at Woodhall Spa, Licolnshire, in January 1944. There, he flew his first combat mission with the famed “Dambusters” on 18 April 1944 against a rail marshalling yard near Paris. On D-Day, he dropped “window” anti-radar foil against German air defenses. Reid flew many missions using 12,000 or 14,000 pound “Tallboy” bombs against V-1 rocket installations and E-boat and U-boat pens. On a mission against a V-weapon storage dump on 31 July 1944, an errant bomb from another bomber struck Reid’s Lancaster and severed its control cables. The aircraft entered a steep dive, pinned him to his seat, and then broke apart.
Reid was thrown clear and got a good parachute! Landing in German-held France, he was captured and made prisoner first at Stalag Luft III and later at Stalag Luft IV until May 1945. He left the Royal Air Force in early 1946 and entered college. In 1949 after graduation from West of Scotland Agricultural College, he began a career in agricultural management and, subsequently, retired in 1988.
Reid was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1992 and subsequently honored in 2000.