THE FIRST WORLD WAR (1914–1918)

Capt Wilfrid “Wop” May

Captain Wilfrid “Wop” May, DFC, of Carberry, Manitoba, served with the RAF’s 209 Squadron. He came out of the First World War as a fighter pilot ace with seven victories.

In January 1929, Wop and Vic Horner wrote a dazzling page in Canadian aviation history. They flew an open cockpit Avro Avian for a two day trip with temperatures hovering around -30C, from Edmonton, Alberta, to Fort Vermillion, Alberta, in one of the first mercy flights of Canada’s air age. Their goal: to deliver diphtheria vaccine to combat an outbreak of the deadly disease in Little Red River, about 100 kilometres from Fort Vermillion. The 1,000 kilometre flight became known across Canada as “the race against death”.

In 1932, Wop flew the aircraft that guided Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in their hectic chase of Albert Johnson — “The Mad Trapper of Rat River” — in the Yukon.

During the Second World War, Wop was general manager of No. 2 Air Observer School in Edmonton; he also created the first para rescue unit, which later evolved into the Royal Canadian Air Force’s modern search and rescue system. Wop was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974.

FOCUS ON … AIR ACES

The First World War added many new words and phrases to the English language. Some, like trench foot and mustard gas, represented horrific changes to the way war was fought. Others, like “ace”, suggested something more glamorous than mud and machine guns. The public became fascinated with military pilots, and those who shot down five or more enemy aircraft were known as “aces”.

FOCUS ON … THE NIEUPORT 17

The Nieuport 17 was widely used by the British and French air forces during the First World War. The Nieuport seen here is a replica, and finished in the markings of the aircraft flown by Billy Bishop.

DID YOU KNOW…

The glamorous aspect of air fighting in the First World War tended to overshadow other phases of air operations that were, in the big picture, equally important. For instance, the work of the army cooperation squadrons, which observed the enemy and targeted artillery fire in the battle area, was seldom spectacular but it was vitally important for the success of ground operations.