With our “Moving through Time” weekend fast approaching, Fort Edmonton Park would like to recognize one of the city’s most famous war heroes: Wilfrid “Wop” May. We’ve talked about May before, but there’s so much to talk about!
Born on March 20th 1896 in Carberry, Manitoba, his family relocated to Edmonton in 1902. When the First World War struck, he enlisted in the Canadian Army and began what would become a long and successful career as an aviator. During his life he became a WWI flying ace, took on the dangerous and daring mercy flight to deliver diphtheria vaccinations to the north in the dead of the winter of 1929, and played a significant role in WWII aviation training.
But even the best had to start somewhere! When he left on April 21st, 1918 for one of the most important aerial fights in history he was a new pilot with only 55 hours of flight time. With the instructions to “watch and learn” and “not get involved,” Wop May flew out with Squadron 209 on April 21 1918, unaware that history was about to be made “ and that he would play a major role.
When they arrived at their destination over the town of Cerisy in France, May followed his instructions to not get in trouble and stayed above the action. However, there was another aircraft up there with him, piloted by someone who had received similar instructions to avoid the heat of the dogfight below. May, in his own words, “could not resist the temptation,” and fired on the aircraft. Unbeknownst to him, this plane was flown by Lieutenant Wolfram von Richtofen, the nephew of the infamous WWI flying ace Manfred von Richtofen “ also known as the Red Baron.
Within minutes the most dangerous man in the air was on his tail: the Baron, who had recorded an astounding 80 kills in the air, had noticed May and picked him out for his 81st. Here’s May’s account of what happened:
Engaged 15 to 20 triplanes “ claimed one. Blue one. Several on my tail, came out with red triplane on my tail which followed me down to the ground over the line on my tail all the time got several bursts into me but didn’t hit me. When we got across the lines he was shot down by Capt. Brown. I saw him crash into side of hill. Came back with Capt. We afterward found out that the triplane (red) was the famous German airman Baron Richtofen. He was killed.
There is some debate as to who fired the shot that brought an end to the Baron’s aerial reign; though Brown was originally credited with the kill (Squadron 209’s crest even bears the image of a red eagle, symbolizing the Baron, falling from the sky), analysis of his wound indicates that it was more likely from ground fire. One thing we know for sure though “ it was a local boy that he was after on the day he was shot down!
Join us this weekend at Fort Edmonton Park for “Moving through Time!” Come check out our model of Wop May’s Avro Avian outside of Blatchford Field Air Hangar, the aircraft he flew on his 1929 mercy flight to the north. Can you imagine flying in an aircraft like that in the middle of a Canadian winter? Brr!
Image credit: John Young, https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/ww1-aviation
“The Chronicles of W. R. (Wop) May,” www.wopmay.com