Reid "Wop" May was born in Carberry, Manitoba on 20 April
1896. His family moved to Edmonton in 1902, stopping off to
visit friends and family along the way. At one such stop, Mary
Lumsden, at age two, was asked to say hello to her cousin
Wilfrid. All she said was "Woppie." Thereafter, this was
shortened to "Wop," and the nickname remained with him for the
rest of his life.
Wop May joined the 202 Edmonton Sportsman’s Battalion of the
Canadian Expeditionary Force on 8 February 1916. His training in
Calgary was quickly completed, and he became a sergeant
instructing machine gunning and later range firing.
His battalion went overseas in 1917, and May and his friend
Ray Ross signed up with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). His
introductory flight at Northolt Aerodrome in London, England was
in a Bristol "Fighter." Once he had landed, another airplane, a
R.E.8, landed on top of him, destroying both aircraft.
Miraculously, everyone in the two planes walked away from the
May entered initial training at the Royal Flying Corps School
of Instruction in Acton in October 1917, where he flew a Caudron
G. III. He was permitted to complete his first solo flight after
only three hours and twenty-nine minutes of instruction on 17
May was then transferred to 94 Squadron at Hendon where he
received advanced training that included signalling, aerial
photography, bomb dropping, ground gunnery, fighting in flight,
and formation flying. He graduated on 28 February 1918 with the
rank of flight lieutenant, and was transferred to a fighter
squadron in France.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) came into being on 1 April 1918.
May was transferred into the 209 Squadron of the RAF on 9 April.
His flight commander was Roy Brown, a friend from
Victoria High School in Edmonton. Famously, later that month, on
a routine patrol with the RAF, May narrowly survived a dramatic
encounter with the Red Baron.
During his service, Wop May was given credit for shooting
down 13 aircraft, with four others not credited because they
appeared to recover from being sent out of control. May received
the Distinguished Flying Cross, and went on to play a very
important role in the development of civil aviation in western
Canada after the war.