National Treasure #136: Billy Bishop

William Avery Bishop was born in Owen Sound, Ontario. WWI started in his final year at Royal Military College: He enlisted and was made an officer in the cavalry. After all, he could already ride a horse and shoot.

In England he applied for a post as an observer with the Royal Flying Corps and was trained as a pilot, earning his wings in November 1916. Between then and November 1918 he was credited with shooting down 72 enemy aircraft, making him Canada’s top flying ace.

Between 1918 and 1938, more or less, he tried various business ventures and lost all his money in the stock market crash.

During WWII, he served as Director of Recruiting for the Royal Canadian Air Force and promoted the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

His awards, as listed by the Canadian Encyclopedia, are many:

  • Victoria Cross (1917)
  • Distinguished Service Order with Bar (1917)
  • Military Cross (1917)
  • Distinguished Flying Cross (1918)
  • 1914″“1915 Star (1918)
  • British War Medal (1918)
  • Victory Medal with Mentioned in Dispatches Emblem (1918)
  • Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (1918)
  • Croix de Guerre avec Palmes (1918)
  • George V Jubilee Medal (1935)
  • George VI Coronation Medal (1937)
  • Companion of the Order of the Bath (1944)
  • 1939″“1945 War Medal (1945)
  • Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953)
  • Canadian Efficiency Decoration
  • Canadian Volunteer Service Medal

Did he embellish his record? Historians have different opinions.

Towards the end of his life, Bishop freely admitted that he had embellished some accounts of his flying exploits in popular publications such as Winged Warfare. However, according to Bashow (My note: historian at Royal Military College), Bishop’s combat reports were very professional and tended to understate his success — these were the same reports upon which his Victoria Cross and other decorations were based.

Given the many gaps in British and German records (including the destruction of documents during bombing campaigns in the Second World War), historians have not been able to confirm all of Bishop’s combat claims — Kilduff, for example, could only confirm 21 of 72 victories. As the evidence is inconclusive, it is unlikely that the debate will ever be settled. – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Library and Archives Canada has some interesting details, including the text of many of the citations for his awards.


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4 Responses to National Treasure #136: Billy Bishop

  1. Sid says:

    C’mon now…………we have to believe anyone from Owen Sound!


  2. John Whitman says:

    Another attribute of Owen Sound – the William Avery Bishop, VC, museum in the home where he grew up. If memory serves, his grave is also in one of the Owen Sound cemeteries along with the graves of two other VC winners.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – There you go: You read it here first. Next (tourist) stop, Owen Sound.

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