One century after a fateful flight over the skies of France that left Germany without its “Red Baron,” the life and accomplishments of an Edmonton war hero are being recognized.
On April 21st, 1918, the WWI flying ace known as the Red Baron took to the skies for the last time, after being credited with 80 combat victories.
On that day, Edmontonian Wilfred Reid “Wop” May was fired upon by the Red Baron or Baron Manfred von Richthofen during a dogfight.
Fortunately for May, his flight commander, Roy Brown, swooped in and fired at von Richthofen. The Red Baron’s plane was eventually shot down, although it remains unclear who was responsible.
The Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton honoured May on Saturday, inviting his son, Denny May, to speak about his father’s accomplishments.
“One hundred years ago today no one knew who (my dad) was. The next day, he became a hero,” May said.
For the museum, Denny May’s involvement is considered invaluable.
“Having a connection like Denny May who can come in and talk first-hand about what his father told him and all those stories, and have him come in and bring that history alive is huge,” said Zena Conlin, a spokesperson for the Alberta Aviation Museum.
May’s novice flying skills helped give him an edge in his aerial flight with The Red Baron, according to his son.
“They said it was his bad flying that saved his life,” May laughed.
May shot down at least 13 enemy aircraft during the First World War, earning him a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.
He went on to advance aviation in Alberta and northern Canada.
May launched an airline with his brother, called May Airplanes Ltd., and was one of the main people behind the construction of Blatchford Field.
During the Second World War, he helped train thousands of Commonwealth aircrew.
“Growing up, I never thought much about it. He was just my dad,” said May. “It wasn’t until later on that I realized how much he had done and how much he had done in the world.”