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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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617 Squadron Crest
31.07.1944 617 Squadron Lancaster I ME557 KC:S Flt.Lt. William Reid VC

Operation: Rilly-La-Montage France

Date: 31st July 1944

Unit: 617 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I

Serial: ME557

Code: KC:S

Base: RAF Woodhall Spa

Location: near the village of Germaine (Marne) France

Pilot: Flt.Lt. William Reid VC. 124438 RAFVR Age 22. PoW No: 6960 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria

Flt.Eng: Flt.Sgt. Donald George William Stewart 909536 RAFVR Age 27. Killed

Nav: Fg.Off. Joseph Ovila Peltier J17546 RCAF Age 26. Killed

Air Bmr: Plt.Off. Leslie George Rolton DFC. 171066 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

WOp/Air Gnr: Fg.Off. David Luker 131635 RAFVR PoW No: 6953 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria

Air Gnr: Flt.Sgt. Albert Arthur Holt 1159886 RAFVR Age 31. Killed

Air Gnr: WO. John William Hutton DFC, MiD. 1378696 RAFVR Age? Killed


On 31 July 1944, 617 Squadron was linked with 9 Squadron for a 'Tallboy' deep penetration bomb attack on a V-weapon storage dump at Rilly-la-Montagne, near Rheims. As Reid, flying in Lancaster I ME557 KC-S, released his bomb over the target at 12,000 ft at 20:18hrs, he felt his aircraft shudder under the impact of a bomb dropped by another Lancaster 6,000 ft above.

The bomb ploughed through his aeroplane's fuselage, severing all control cables and fatally weakening its structure, and Reid gave the order to bail out. As members of his crew scrambled out, the plane went into a dive, pinning Reid to his seat. Reaching overhead, he managed to release the escape hatch panel and struggled out just as the Lancaster broke in two. He landed heavily by parachute, breaking his arm in the fall.

Above: Fg.Off. Joseph Ovila Peltier from his service file.

Within an hour he was captured by a German patrol and taken prisoner. After various transfers, he ended the war in Stalag III-A prisoner of war camp at Luckenwalde, west of Berlin.

The pilot, Flt.Lt. William Reid received the highest award for gallantry on an earlier operation with 61 Squadron Gazetted on the 14th December 1943:
‘On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf. Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot's windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner's hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay he managed to return the Messerschmitt's fire and it was driven off.
During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.
Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke Wulf 190. This time, the enemy's fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.
Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorised his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer, who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain's injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.
Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semiconsciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.
The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on.
Wounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.’

Note: William Reid died at the age of 79 on the 28th November 2001, survived by his wife and their two children.

AC2 William Reid graduated as a Sgt. from No. 2 British Flight Training School (BFTS) at Glendale/Lancaster in California. 1348645 Sgt. Reid was commissioned and promoted to Plt.Off. (124438), gazetted 21st August 1942.

The Victoria Cross and campaign medals awarded to Flight Lieutenant William Reid, 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was sold at auction by the London auctioneer Spink on the 19th November 2009. The VC group realised a hammer price of £290,000 (£335,000) which is a world record for a British Victoria Cross.

The identity of the purchaser was publicised as being Melissa John who bought the William Reid VC group in memory of her late brother, Christopher John, who was well known as a collector of Royal Air Force medals and whose ambition was to own a Victoria Cross.


Letter and medals awarded to Flt.Sgt. Albert Arthur Holt

Burial details:

Flt.Sgt. Donald George William Stewart. Germaine Communal Cemetery. Row 6. Grave 2. Born on the 13th October 1918 Redhill, Surrey, England, older brother of Gladys and son of William Stewart and Mary Ann Trainor.

He was a cleaner (locomotive) for the Southern Railway before joining up. He also was in The Redhill Flying club 1938. In Germaine there is a Stone that celebrates the loss of those killed 31st July 1944. Each year Flt.Sgt. Stewart has flowers put on his grave in the cemetery.

Fg.Off. Joseph Ovila Peltier. Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, Hautot-Sur-Mer. Grave N.29. Born 31st January 1981 in Windsor, Ontario. Son of Rene and Emilie (née Renaud) Peltier and husband to Lillian Ilene (née Scott) Peltier of Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Plt.Off. Leslie George Rolton. DFC. Clichy Northern Cemetery. Plot 16. Row 11. Grave 4. Son of Olander Rolton, and of Elizabeth Rolton, of Romford, Essex, England.

DFC awarded to Plt.Off Rolton whilst with 61 Sqn, Gazetted 2nd June 1944.

Flt.Sgt. Albert Arthur Holt. Clichy Northern Cemetery. Plot 16. Row 10. Grave 18. Son of Henry and Florence Elizabeth Holt, husband of Gladys Maude Holt, of Douglas, Isle of Man, England.

WO. John William Hutton. DFC, MiD. Clichy Northern Cemetery. Plot 16. Row 10. Grave 17. No further details, are you able to assist?

WO. Hutton was MiD, gazetted 1st January 1943 and awarded the DFC whilst with 617 Sqn, gazetted 19th September 1944.

Researched by Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered July 2015. With thanks to Vanessa Tayler, Alan Hart, Régis Biaux and Anneke Moerenhout for grave photos, John Robertson and John Baxter ( Windsor Daily Star) for crew photos (April 2017). Mike Beckers for medal photos. Updated by Aircrew Remembered (Feb 2021).

RS 27.02.2021 - Additional information added

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