________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 17 . . . . April 18, 2008


Conquer the Sky: Flying Ace Wop May.

Sheila Reid.
St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell, 2008.
59 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55125-128-8.

Subject Headings:
May, Wilfrid Reid, 1896-1952-Juvenile literature.
Bush pilots-Canada, Northern-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Fighter pilots-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

*** /4


Companies were beginning to realize how much air carriers could expand their businesses. With Wop’s reputation, he soon found himself in demand as a test pilot and an instructor of eager young men wanting to get in on the flying excitement. Before long Wop had enough trained pilots to form Canada’s first flying club – the Edmonton and Northern Alberta Aero Club. The first thing they did was build an aerodrome. By 1927 Edmonton had the first municipal aerodrome in Canada. To celebrate, Wop set new aviation records over the next few months in altitude and speed.

Wilfrid “Wop” May was born in Carberry, MB, in 1896, but he grew up in Edmonton, AB. Inspired by images of aircraft on the front during the First World War, May joined the Canadian Army and eventually was accepted into the British Royal Flying Corps School of Instruction. He was still a rookie pilot in April 1918 when he narrowly escaped becoming Baron von Richthofen’s final kill. May’s war service was just the beginning of a long career as an adventurous and pioneering pilot who earned a place in Canadian aviation history.

     Reid’s brief biography was first published in 1997 under the title Wings of a Hero: Canadian Pioneer Flying Ace Wilfrid Wop May. The present edition is pleasantly designed to resemble a scrapbook, with numerous photographs scattered throughout. Reid incorporates the text of a journal entry and several letters written home to capture some of the subject’s wartime experience. She continues to emphasize the adventures that May seized upon in the course of his flying career back in Alberta where he started a commercial flying business. In addition to stunt and demonstration flying, May engaged in aerial photography, police work and mail delivery.

     In the first days of January 1929, May and a young pilot Vic Horner set out on a mercy mission to deliver serum to treat an outbreak of diphtheria some 600 miles away in Fort Vermilion. The conditions were brutal, but, with help from people on the ground, the duo successfully delivered the serum to the requesting doctor two days later. Other accomplishments include the inaugural air mail run to Aklavik in the Northwest Territories, participation in the RCMP hunt for the Mad Trapper, and regular work as a bush pilot delivering cargoes and people to remote destinations. Amazingly, much of this flying took place following an accident that left May blinded in one eye.

     During the Second World War, May founded a search, parachute jump, and rescue operation that later evolved into the RCAF Search & Rescue unit that continues to serve the Canadian public today. May died while hiking in Utah in 1952. His son, Denny, has created a website where readers can learn more about Wop May and Canadian aviation history: www.wopmay.com.

     Conquer the Sky will appeal foremost to boys. Curious students may use the biography as a starting point for additional study of World War I vintage and other early aircraft named in the work. A few words including diphtheria and aerodrome may call for a dictionary. An atlas is needed to find all of the named locations where May flew, often with a mechanic onboard. In general, the book captures the adventurous spirit of its subject, although I think it glorifies his war career more than necessary, especially with the cover illustration depicting May being chased by the Red Baron.


Val Ken Lem is a librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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