William Avery “Billy” Bishop VC, CB, DSO & Bar, MC, DFC, ED was a Canadian flying ace and Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War.
He received the Victoria Cross (VC) “For most conspicuous bravery, determination, and skill. Captain Bishop, who had been sent out to work independently, flew first of all to an enemy aerodrome; finding no machines about, he flew on to another aerodrome about 3 miles southeast, which was at least 12 miles the other side of the line. Seven machines, some with their engines running were on the ground. He attacked these from about fifty feet, and a mechanic, who was starting one of the engines, was seen to fall. One of the machines got off the ground, but at a height of 60 feet, Captain Bishop fired 15 rounds into it at a very close range, and it crashed to the ground. A second machine got off the ground, into which he fired 30 rounds at 150 yards range, and it fell into a tree. Two more machines then rose from the aerodrome. One of these he engaged at a height of 1,000 feet, emptying the rest of his drum of ammunition. This machine crashed 300 yards from the aerodrome, after which Captain Bishop emptied a whole drum into the fourth hostile machine, and then flew back to his station. Four hostile scouts were about 1,000 feet above him for about a mile of his return journey, but they would not attack. His machine was very badly shot about by machine-gun fire from the ground.” (August 1917)
Our Museum Library has a number of books that focus on this Canadian pilot, his accomplishments, and the controversy surrounding the VC award:
WINGED WARFARE ~ This is the autobiography of the famed pilot. It’s considered “…a unique contemporary account of the birth of modern air combat from one of its most famous protagonists. Written in 1918, its themes of death and survival above the battlefield are nevertheless as relevant today as they were to the very first fighter pilots.”
THE MAKING OF BILLY BISHOP ~ Written by Brereton Greenhous, this biography contends that “the attack that brought Bishop his VC never happened, and that many of those seventy-two victories were the product of an ambitious imagination that was encouraged by the authorities.” He presents evidence that some of the medals Bishop wore late in his career were “unearned, uncovers a number of examples of Bishop embellishing or inventing combat stories, and, most significantly, shows that the only account of the ace’s raid on the German airfield came from Bishop himself. Even official German records of casualties fail to corroborate the Canadian’s claims.”
BILLY BISHOP, CANADIAN HERO ~ Dan McCaffrey wrote this book and describes Bishop as, “… a skilled pilot and a crack shot, who quickly established himself as the ‘top gun’ of the Allied forces and by 1918 had secured his position as the most decorated war hero in Canadian history.” But, McCaffrey continues, “…questions remain. Some of Bishop’s fellow pilots were put off by his penchant for grandstanding, and also suspected that he was deliberately inflating the number of his ‘kills’…
BILLY BISHOP, THE MAN AND THE AIRCRAFT HE FLEW ~ In the Introduction, the author explains, “In the ranks of Allied air aces, Billy Bishop officially stands third, behind Frenchman Rene Fonck, with 75 victories, and Irishman Mick Mannock, credited with 73 victories. As it is, he was the highest scoring Canadian and with 79 ‘unofficial’ victories to his credit he may have been second only to the leading ace of that war, Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen.
But precise and accurate victory logs are impossible to find and there is speculation about the exact number of victories he actually achieved. Sadly, Billy Bishop died in 1956 at the comparatively young age of 62 and we are unable to seek and obtain clarification for many fights where, apart from the victim, he was the only participant.”
This book does a good job of not only looking at the controversy, but also looks at the various aircraft he flew along with Bishop’s own words describing the combats.
Whether you visit our Museum Library to read and research, or you’re looking for titles available at your community library or favourite bookstore, these books will intrigue you!