THE FIRST WORLD WAR (1914–1918)

Capt William A. Bishop, in the cockpit of his Nieuport Scout while with No. 60 Squadron in 1917.

William Avery Bishop was one of the greatest aces of the war. However, he was not the most decorated Canadian — not quite. His fellow pilot and friend, William Barker, actually holds that title. But Bishop was the third highest ace of the First World War (72 kills) and is reputed by some to be the top ace in the British Empire. He is easily the most revered Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) hero and one of the best-known Canadian military figures — at home or abroad. He remains the symbol of the scrappy Canadian fighter pilot who faced danger like it was tomorrow’s dinner.

Bishop was gifted with extraordinary eyesight and acute shooting skills. He also possessed what Napoleon called “the courage of the early morning”. Then-Captain Bishop’s dawn raid on the Estourmel aerodrome, a German airfield in France, on June 2, 1917, earned him the Victoria Cross. It was the first awarded to a Canadian airman.

Between the wars, Bishop had some ups and downs in the private sector and his airline business with Barker ultimately failed.

In 1938, he was appointed honorary air marshal although, when he returned to active service in September 1939, his substantive rank was air commodore. The RCAF put him in charge of recruiting, a task at which he was extremely successful. Although he resigned from his position in 1944 due to ill health, he offered to return to his recruiting post upon the outbreak of the Korean War.

Billy Bishop died in 1956 and is buried in his hometown of Owen Sound, Ontario. He was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974.

A/M Bishop visits RCAF airmen in Britain in 1942.