Billy Bishop – Canadian Flying Ace

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William Avery Bishop, also known as Billy Bishop, was born in Owen Sound, Ontario on February 8, 1894. He was the third of four children born to William and Margaret Bishop.

Billy had many problems while growing up. He spoke with a lisp, which made him the object of much teasing and harassment. The school boys didn’t like him, so he played with the girls. He didn’t participate in hockey, lacrosse or other sports, but stuck to horseback riding and swimming. This did nothing to improve his situation.

Billy never backed down from his peers. Many fights and his “tough guy” nature finally gained him acceptance at school.

When Billy was 17, his parents sent him to the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. Not being a great scholar, Billy found life at college challenging. Along with that, Billy’s personality caused him a lot of problems.

When WWI broke out, Billy decided to be a soldier. He joined the “Mississauga Horse of Toronto,” a Calvary unit with the Second Canadian Division. As his unit left for war, Billy lay in the hospital suffering from pneumonia. When he had recuperated, he was transferred to the 14th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles in London, Ontario.

Before Billy left for England, he proposed to Margaret Burdin, who he had courted for year. She accepted and the couple planned to marry when Billy returned from overseas.

While overseas, Billy and his unit experienced bad weather. It rained constantly and there was mud everywhere. Along with that and the many casualties from Trench Warfare, Billy became homesick and depressed. He longed to return home while he was still alive. Though he’d thought that soldiering would be a “piece of cake,” he hated it. He wanted out.

In July 1915, Billy watched a Nieuport biplane land and take off. He wrote to Margaret: It landed hesitantly in a nearby field as if scorning to brush its wings against so sordid a landscape; then away again into the clear, gray mist. How long I stood there gazing into the distance I do not know, but when I turned back to slog through the mud my mind was made up. I knew there was only one place to be on such a day – up above the clouds in the summer sunshine. I was going into battle that way. I was going to meet the enemy in the air. Instead of being a soldier, I was going to be a pilot.

Billy immediately began researching the possibility of transferring to the air force. After much research and determination, he joined the Royal Flying Corps as an observer. He was transferred to Salisbury, Wiltshire. Before long, he was in the air. Billy had found his niche.

On June 2, 1917, Billy maneuvered his plane behind enemy lines to attack a powerful German plane. During this flight, he destroyed three Albatross biplanes. He was on the Western Front less than three months and already had downed 47 German planes. In less than six months, he had fought 170 battles and downed 72 German planes. In a single day, he engaged 23 German planes in battle.

Billy flew a Canadian ace for a short time. Then, he was ordered home to Canada for a recruiting tour in the fall of 1917. This tour also took him into the United States. In June 1918, he set up a fighter squadron before returning to England.

Billy was involved in a battle with the Red Baron in 1917. He had Von Richthofen in his sights when his gun jammed. When it was working, he put several shots in the Red Baron’s fuselage. However, Von Richthofen skillfully maneuvered his plane out of Billy’s range. Billy had a close call that day when other German planes attacked him. He escaped by hiding behind cloud cover. Billy described the battle as a “wonderful soul-stirring fight.”

By the fall of 1917, Billy was the most skilled Allied Forces ace. He was credited with 47 kills. King George presented him with three medals, including the Victoria Cross. Billy then returned home and married his fiancé. He later returned to England and in twelve days shot down another 25 German planes.

During WWII, Billy rose to the rank of Marshall in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He died in his sleep in September 1956. He was buried in Toronto, Ontario, with full military honors. A dozen jet-fighters flew over and dipped their wing as Canada’s greatest flying ace was laid to rest.

Billy left behind his wife Margaret and his son, William, who later wrote books about his father’s escapades.