Medal sheds light on Ilkley pilot’s mid-air battle

William Reid competing for what was then Ilkley & District Motor Club, after the war

William Reid serving with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War

The silver medal won by Ilkley man William Reid in 1920, despite the injuries he suffered during the war

First published in News Wharfedale Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

Research into a 94-year-old medal has shed light on a Wharfedale motorcyclist’s remarkable brush with death during the First World War.

The silver medal in question was sent to Ilkley & District Motor Club by Alastair Reid - the grandson of Ilkley man William Reid, who had achieved second place in the President’s Trophy trial of 1920.

Investigations by club historian Janet Kitching revealed that Mr Reid's achievement had been all the more impressive as he had been riding with one elbow “shot out” - the result of being downed, as a Royal Flying Corps pilot, by a German ace.

Janet tracked down a vivid account of that mid-air encounter over France between German pilot Max Immelmann's Fokker Eindecker and Reid’s BE2c online, and says it reads like a true “Boy’s Own” adventure.

Immelmann's report for August 1, 1915, said: “Like a hawk I dived and fired my machine gun. For a moment I believed I would fly right into him.

“I had fired about 60 shots when my gun jammed. That was awkward for to clear the jam I needed both hands - I had to fly completely without hands.”

Mrs Kitching, in the account she has written for the Otley-based club about the medal and its owner, quotes from the Wikipedia entry on Immelmann: “Lt William Reid fought back valiantly, flying with his left hand and firing a pistol with his right.

“Nonetheless, the 450 bullets fired at him took their effect. Reid suffered four wounds in his left arm and his airplane’s engine quit, causing a crash landing.

“The unarmed Immelmann landed nearby, took Reid prisoner and rendered first aid.”

Mr Reid’s adventures didn’t stop after being shot down, though his war was effectively over.

Mrs Kitching said: “His grandson, Bill Reid, tells me he was interned both in POW camps and Switzerland, having been deemed by the Germans to be unfit to be of any use in further active service.

“He married his Swiss-Italian nurse whilst in Switzerland and on his return to England he taught the Queen’s father to fly, at RAF Cranwell.

“He was also a nationally known Lepidopterist – a moth and butterfly enthusiast – and his collection is held at the National History Museum, London.

“His RFC memorabilia, including diaries and letters home, were lodged at RAF Hendon in the early 1980s. All this from the return of a silver medal to the club! How many other stories are out there from that time?”

She said: “Alastair Reed, who lives in Sheffield, said he and his two brothers were happy that the medal has come back ‘home’.

“We very much appreciate and thank the family for the return of the medal, nearly 100 years after it was won, and it has already been seen and appreciated by several members.”

The medal - with Mr Reid’s surname mistakenly engraved as Reed - has joined the only other one the club has from 1920 in its collection, a bronze.

The club is now based at Otley Rugby Club, after starting life in Ilkley, and has more than 400 members.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree