William Reid (VC) bigraphy, stories - Recipient of the Victoria Cross

William Reid (VC) : biography

21 December 1921 - 28 November 2001

William Reid VC (21 December 1921 – 28 November 2001) was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He earned his Victoria Cross as a pilot in the Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the Second World War.

Born in Baillieston, Lanarkshire, he applied to join the RAF on the outbreak of war. After initial training, he was selected as a bomber pilot, and soon became a flying instructor himself. He was eventually given an operational posting, flying a number of raids before that on Düsseldorf which led to the award of the VC. On a later raid he was shot down and spent some time as a German prisoner of war. He left the RAF after the war, and worked in the agricultural industry.

On 19 November 2009 his VC was sold at auction for £384,000, a record for a VC awarded to someone from the United Kingdom.


Reid married Violet Campbell Gallagher, a daughter of William Gallagher, sports editor of the Glasgow Daily Record in 1952. She was reportedly completely unaware that he was a VC holder until they were married.


Reid was a 21-year-old acting flight lieutenant serving in 61 Squadron when he took part in the raid on Düsseldorf in Germany which led to the award of his VC.

On the night of 3 November 1943, on the way to Düsseldorf, the windscreen of Flight Lieutenant Reid's Lancaster (serial LM360) was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt Bf 110 and the gun turrets and cockpit badly damaged. Saying nothing of his multiple injuries, he continued on his mission and soon afterwards the bomber was attacked again by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190. His navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally wounded. He was wounded again, as was the flight engineer, while the Lancaster received more serious damage. The starboard part of the tailplane had been lost. He decided to carry on, rather than turn back. No-one else on board could have flown the plane in a straight line, let alone with all the damage sustained. Reid modestly claimed that his main reason for pressing on was that turning back would have involved flying through or across the following bomber stream, with a real danger of mid-air collision.Interview The World at War, Thames Television documentary, (1973-74).

Pressing on to his target, Reid released the bombs, then set course for home. On the way back to Syerston, he saw the searchlights of RAF Shipdham, a USAAF-operated base in Norfolk.

Despite being wounded and suffering from loss of blood, Reid succeeded in landing his plane - though the undercarriage collapsed and the aircraft slid along the runway. The wireless operator died in Shipdham's medical centre but the rest of the crew survived.Smith, Graham, Norfolk Airfields in the Second World War

He was awarded the VC on 14 December 1943. The citation reads:

Later years

In 1950, he became an agricultural adviser to the MacRobert Trust, Douneside. From 1959 to his retirement in 1981, he was an adviser to a firm of animal feed manufacturers.

Reid is interviewed and provides a vivid description of the mission for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross in episode 12, “Whirlwind – Bombing Germany (September 1939 – April 1944)”, of the acclaimed British documentary television series, The World at War.

Post war

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

Early life

William Reid was born in Baillieston, near Glasgow, on 21 December 1921 the son of a blacksmith. He was educated at Swinton Primary School and Coatbridge Higher Grade School and studied metallurgy for a time, but then applied to join the RAF. After training in Canada, he received his wings and was a sergeant when he was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 19 June 1942. He then trained on twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords at Little Rissington before moving to the Operational Training Unit at RAF North Luffenham. There, his skill as a pilot led to his being selected as an instructor, flying the Vickers Wellington, albeit with the promise of a posting to an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber unit. He was promoted to flying officer on 19 Decemberth 1942.

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Living octopus

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