Billy Bishop was the middle child to William and Margaret Bishop when he popped out in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. As he grew up he liked to spend time alone, shunning team sports at school and preferring solitary sports like swimming and horse riding.
I guess he didn’t want to have to rely on others and this becomes more evident in his later life.
Wanting to fly from a young age, he started doing exactly that. When Billy was just 15 he was pulled alive from the wreckage of a plane crash by his sister. Fortunately his plane was built using string, wooden crates and cardboard. The teenager still crashed from the roof of their three-story house so was lucky to escape major injury.
There were many World War One heroes and he was just one of them.
When it came to his military service Billy started off in a cavalry regiment. He transferred to a mounted infantry unit. Billy was a great shot and could pick out targets much further away than the other soldiers around him.
Billy still loved the air though and wanted to fly. When in France in 1915 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Starting off as observer with a camera that would take photographs during flights, gathering intelligence. Billy spent time on recon flights and bombing missions but didn’t actually fire his gun in anger at the enemy.
In 1917 he moved to France and joined 60 Squadron near Arras, fighting for the British during World War One. But Billy didn’t enjoy flying over London in the dark so he asked for the move.
A Tough Mission
German pilots were shooting down British planes at a ratio of 5-1. The average life expectancy of a new pilot here was just 11 days. Billy was certainly up against it. The Germans were shooting down most British pilots within a few days.
He started off by shooting down some German Aces himself. He was nearly shot down himself. Returning to base with 210 holes in his plane one time certainly caught the attention.
At the front of the pack every time was Bishop. When going out on missions it was often Billy that took the brunt of the enemy fire.
The young soldier claimed kill after kill, often taking many planes down in a single mission. Bishop was awarded the VC for his actions and he also won the Distinguished Service Order. The daring pilot shot down two planes while being attacked by four others.
The End of the War
Billy, with 72 wins, is labeled a hero when the war was over.
Now to take the shine off of his story. There are historians and also rumours with some evidence, that say he didn’t make 72 wins. The official historian for the Royal Canadian Air Force has claimed his kills could have been as low as 27.
We will never know for sure. Even if it was only 27, Billy Bishop was still a hero who helped to win the war and deserves recognition for this.
He won plenty of medals and citations as listed:
Bishop’s decorations include the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order & Bar, Military Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, légion d’honneur and the Croix de Guerre with palm. Billy was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the King’s Birthday Honours List of 1 June 1944.
He passed away in Florida in 1956 aged 62.