William Avery “Billy” Bishop (1894–1956) is one of Canada’s best-known flying aces. Bishop grew up in Owen Sound, Ontario, and in 1911 enrolled as a student cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston. The outbreak of war during his final year of study prevented him from graduating and hastened his entry into active service. He enlisted with the 9th Mississauga Horse Regiment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Toronto on September 30, 1914.
The following year, he enlisted with the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles on March 30th in London, and left Canada that June for duty overseas. After serving in the trenches briefly, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, initially as an officer observer, then as a pilot after receiving his wings in November 1916.
As one of the pilots providing aerial support during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Bishop shot down 12 planes in April 1917 alone, winning the Military Cross and earning a promotion to Captain. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his single-handed attack on a German airfield near Cambrai, France, on June 2, 1917. By the end of the First World War, Bishop had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was credited with destroying 72 enemy aircraft. After the war, he was involved in a number of private business ventures in Canada and England. He served during the Second World War, assuming recruitment and training responsibilities for the Royal Canadian Air Force. William A. “Billy” Bishop died on September 11, 1956 at his home in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: February 8, 1894 (Owen Sound, Ontario)
Date of Attestation: March 30, 1915 (London, Ontario)
Age at Enlistment: 20 years, 1 month old
Prior Military Service: Three years with the Royal Military College of Canada
Height: 5 feet, 6¾ inches
Weight: 138 lbs
Description: Fair complexion, blue eyes, light brown hair. Scar on inner part of right leg. Presbyterian.
Home Address: 494 Avenue Road, Toronto, Ontario (1918)
Trade: Student Cadet
Married: Not at the time of enlistment. He marries Margaret Beattie Eaton (née Burden) on October 17, 1917.
Next of Kin: Father, W.A. Bishop, living at P.O. Box 1015, Owen Sound, Ontario
Theatre of War: Canada, England, France
- April 5 to 11, 1915 – Bishop is admitted to Victoria Hospital, in London, Ontario, with injured ribs. His eye, wrist and hand are also injured.
- July to August 1915 – He is treated for pleurisy at the Helena Hospital in Shorncliffe, England. He makes a “Quick and complete recovery.”
- February 9, 1916 – He is admitted to No. 10 Stationary Hospital in St. Omer, France, for slight frostbite to his face.
- 1916 – He suffers from synovitis “due to crash no after effects – ill six weeks no disability.”
- December 18, 1918 – Upon demobilization, he has varicose veins in both legs (dating from July 1915) and deafness (from June 1918). The cause is listed as “strain of service.” Other details indicate that he has difficulty walking more than two miles without “great discomfort” and after one mile he needs to rest. He also has damage to his right inner ear, and a deviated septum. The problem with his legs and veins is attributed to flying, which became “worse in France due to high altitude and intense cold.”
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- March 25, 1911 – A letter from Bishop’s father requesting that his son be included in the next Entrance Examination at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. Although this document is in poor condition, it is readable.
- May 8, 1911 – Bishop signs a document from the Royal Military College of Canada, certifying he is not married and does not intend to marry while a cadet at the college.
- September 30, 1914 – A “Certificate of Discharge of a Gentleman Cadet” from the Royal Military College, granting William Avery Bishop permission to leave school at the request of his parents.
- September 30, 1914 to December 2, 1918 – A “Record of Service” listing Bishop’s appointments, honours and awards from the time he first enlists with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
- November 15, 1916 – He is seconded to the Royal Flying Corps. He is paid premiums, called Flying Pay during his service with the Corps.
- December 8, 1916 – He becomes a “Flying Officer Observer with the Royal Flying Corps Military Wing.”
- May 1917 – He receives the Military Cross.
- June 1917 – He receives the Distinguished Service Order.
- August 1917 – He receives the Victoria Cross.
- August 28, 1917 – He becomes Chief Instructor at the School of Aerial Gunnery.
- September 1917 – He is promoted to Squadron Commander from Flight Commander.
- September 1917 – He receives a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order.
- September 15 to November 15, 1917 – He is granted special leave to Canada for his marriage to Margaret Beattie Eaton (née Burden) on October 17th. The newlyweds live at 121 Wolmer Road, Toronto, Ontario.
- December 1917 – He is “Mentioned in Sir D. Haig’s Despatch.”
- July 1918 – He receives the Distinguished Flying Cross.
- December 19, 1918 – Bishop applies for and is granted a one-year leave of absence with permission to wear the uniform, for a lecture tour he will undertake under private contract in the United States. His leave is to begin on January 1, 1919.
- December 31, 1918 – Upon general demobilization of the war, Bishop leaves the service.
- April 3, 1919 – An excerpt from the Ottawa Evening Journal indicates that Bishop is recovering from an operation and has to abandon his post-war lecture tour.
- September 1919 – He leaves the Royal Air Force and becomes Temporary Lieutenant Colonel of the Canadian Cavalry Regiment.
- October 2, 1919 – A “Canadian Expeditionary Force Certificate of Service” indicates that Bishop enlisted with the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles on January 9, 1915, and also served with the 2nd Divisional Cavalry, General List, the Royal Flying Corps, and the Canadian Cavalry Regiment.
- February 5, 1920 – On his “Application for Commercial Air Pilot’s Certificate for Flying Machines” Bishop lists the types of aircraft he has flown. Most notably, he has 500 hours of flying time on each the Avro, Newport, and SE 5. He will take his test in Toronto, in an Avro machine.
- July 15, 1920 – A second “Application for Commercial Air Pilot’s Certificate for Flying Machines.” This time, he will take his test for a commercial pilot licence in Toronto, in a Sopwith Dove.
- July 19, 1923 – A certified copy of the original birth certificate of Bishop’s son, Arthur Christian William Avery, born on June 13, 1923 at 129 Wigmore Street, in Marylebone, London, England. It lists Bishop as “Lieutenant Colonel Canadian General Staff (Reserve) V.C. – Company Director of Stanmore” and living at Brockley Hill House, Stanmore, Middlesex.
- April 21, 1926 – A certified copy of the original birth certificate of Bishop’s daughter, Margaret Marise, born on February 15, 1926 at 27 Welbeck Street, in Marylebone, London, England. It lists Bishop as “Financier of St. Pancras” and living at 18 Chester Terrace, St. Pancras.
- A group of telegrams is included in his service file. The first one is from Captain S.C. Campbell of Hollywood, California, who is seeking contact information for Bishop. There are numerous other letters from various sources inquiring about the same. In 1925, the military wrote memos back and forth discussing how to “induce him to report” his address and location.
The London Gazette
Bishop is now a Flying Officer
The London Gazette, December 29, 1916, Supplement 29887, Page 58
Distinguished Service Order
The London Gazette – June 15, 1917, Supplement 30135, Page 5980
“Capt. William Avery Bishop, Can. Cav., and RFC.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While in a single-seater he attacked three hostile machines, two of which he brought down, although in the meantime he was himself attacked by four other hostile machines. His courage and determination have set a fine example for others.”
The London Gazette – August 10, 1917, Supplement 30228, Page 8211
“Captain William Avery Bishop, D.S.O., M.C., Canadian Cavalry and Royal Flying Corps. 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 machine about, he flew on to another aerodrome about three miles south-east, which was at least twelve 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 sixty feet Captain Bishop fired fifteen rounds into it at very close range, and it crashed to the ground. A second machine got off the ground, into which he fired thirty 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 the 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.”
Bar to the Distinguished Service Order
The London Gazette – January 8, 1918, Supplement 30466, Page 557
“Lt. (T./Capt.) William Avery Bishop, V.C., D.S.O., M.C., Can. Cav. and RFC. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when engaging hostile aircraft. His consistent dash and great fearlessness have set a magnificent example to the pilots of his squadron. He has destroyed no less than 45 hostile machines within the past 5 months, frequently attacking enemy formations singlehanded, and on all occasions displaying a fighting spirit and determination to get to close quarters with his opponents which have earned the admiration of all in contact with him.”
Distinguished Flying Cross
The Edinburgh Gazette – August 7, 1918, Issue 13300, Page 2812
“*Capt. (temp. Maj.) William Avery Bishop, V.C., D.S.O., M.C. (formerly Canadian Cavalry). A most successful and fearless fighter in the air, whose acts of outstanding bravery have already been recognised by the awards of the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, Bar to the Distinguished Service Order, and Military Cross.
For the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross now conferred upon him he has rendered signally valuable services in personally destroying twenty-five enemy machines in twelve days – five of which he destroyed on the last day of his service at the front.
The total number of machines destroyed by this distinguished officer is seventy-two, and his value as a moral factor to the Royal Air Force cannot be over-estimated.”
Also mentioned in
The London Gazette, March 31, 1919, Supplement 31259, Page 4154
“Capt. W.A. Bishop, D.S.O., M.C., Can. Cav. and R.F.C.: Nr. Cambrai, France (distinguished flying servs.)”
Military Medals, Honours and Awards (1812–1969)
At age 7, William A. Bishop is living with his family in Owen Sound, Ontario. His father, William A. (42), was born in Canada, and works as a County Court Clerk. His mother, Margaret (43), is Irish Canadian. The family is Presbyterian. Billy has an older brother, Worth (17), who also served in the CEF, and a younger sister, Mary L. (5). A domestic servant, Kate McGregor, also lives in the family home. This census record was accessed after the First World War, and the notation “Canadian War Ace” was added on line 26, next to William A. Bishop’s name.