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Wilfrid “Wop” May
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Dates of existence
Wilfrid Reid “Wop” May was born April 20, 1896 in Carberry, Manitoba, the son of Alexander E. and Elizabeth (Reid) May. The May family moved to Edmonton, Northwest Territories in 1902 and on the way they stopped to visit friends. Two year old Mary Lumsden was told to say hello to her cousin Wilfrid - she tried but the name came out "Woppie," which was soon shortened to "Wop," and the name stuck for the rest of his life. Wop received his education in Edmonton public schools, the Western Canadian College in Calgary, and Alberta College in Edmonton.
In 1916, he enlisted with the 202nd Edmonton Sportsmen’s Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In 1917, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and served with the 209th Squadron of the Royal Air Force until 1919, attaining the rank of captain in 1918. While serving, May is known for helping take down the German pilot Baron von Richthofen; he also shot down thirteen German aircraft. For his service, May was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, given for “an act or acts of valour, courage, or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy.”
Returning to Edmonton, May operated May Airplanes Limited (Ltd.), which later became May-Gorman Airplanes Ltd. The business folded in 1924, and May began work with the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio, where he went for training. While working on a lathe during training, he was hit in the eye by a shard of steel and from then until 1939 he slowly went blind in that eye. On November 19, 1924 he married Violet “Vi” Bode. In 1927, the Edmonton and Northern Alberta Aero Club was established and May became its first president and chief flying instructor. In 1928 when he, Victor Horner, and Charles Becker organized Commercial Airways Ltd., which received the contract for airmail service to the Mackenzie River District in northern Alberta. As a well-respected bush pilot, May is known for his and Vic Horner’s 1929 flight to Fort Vermilion to deliver medicine to prevent a diphtheria outbreak. Wop is also known for his role in the successful 1932 hunt for the fugitive known as the Mad Trapper. In 1929 he was awarded the J. Danzell McKee trophy for aviation achievement and in 1935 was made a member of the Order of the British Empire. Beginning in 1936, May was appointed superintendent of the Mackenzie River district for Canadian Airways.
During the Second World War, May managed the Number Two Air Observer School, an air training school at the Edmonton Airport operated under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. By 1942, May was supervisor of all Canadian Airway Training Ltd. Schools in western Canada; the Edmonton school closed in 1944. In 1943 he organized a training program for a first aid parachute crew to help bring aid to pilots who crashed in remote areas.
After the war, May returned to his position as superintendent of the Mackenzie River district for Canadian Pacific Airlines, which had purchased Canadian Airways. In 1946, he became the Regional Traffic Manager, in 1947 Director of Northern Development, and in 1949 Director of Development in Vancouver, British Columbia. May managed the Canadian Pacific Airlines repair depot in Calgary beginning in 1951. Wilfrid Reid “Wop” May died June 21, 1952 while on vacation with Denny in Provo, Utah.