Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Daredevils of the Skies

Billy Bishop

Like Cecil Lewis, whom I mentioned in last week’s post about the Royal Flying Corps, Canadian Billy Bishop extolled the joys of flying in his memoir, Winged Warfare. Bishop became the RFC’s top Ace with 72 victories, and was one of Canada’s three aviators awarded the Victoria Cross - Britain’s highest military decoration for valour. Bishop appears in my novels ElusiveDawn and Under the Moon.

William Barker
William Barker was one of the other VC recipients, and is Canada and the British Empire’s most decorated war hero of all time. During the air battle that earned him the VC, he sustained three bullet wounds to his legs, and his elbow was shattered.  Barker barely survived, and was plagued by his injuries throughout his short life. With his arm in a sling and still using a cane, he managed to take Edward Prince of Wales for a flight before leaving England, for which King George gave the Prince “absolute hell”.

At the Muskoka Chautauqua
After the war, Bishop and Barker started one of the first commercial airlines in Canada, and began flights between Toronto harbour (now known as the Billy Bishop Airport) and Muskoka. Of course they visit their (fictional) friend’s cottage in Muskoka in my novel, Under the Moon.

Absurdly, they had to pass flying tests before being given the now-required pilot’s licence, and were incensed that the examiners had much less experience than they did. Ah, bureaucracy!

Bishop and Barker were reckless daredevils and too fond of the drink, undoubtedly a legacy from the thrill and stress of warfare. Performing an air show over the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), they stunted so dangerously low that people fled screaming, and the aviators were fired.

Bishop had a crash that seriously injured him and his passenger, resulting is his being unable to fly, which contributed to the Bishop-Barker Aeroplane Company folding in 1922. 

Years later, Barker became Vice-President of Fairchild Aircraft in Canada. He was giving a demonstration of a new plane in 1930 when he crashed. So beloved was this hero that an unprecedented 50,000 people lined the streets of Toronto for his funeral. Sadly, he is almost forgotten. Here is an interesting news clip from 2011, when a plaque was finally erected to Barker at his obscure resting place. It includes film footage of the Bishop-Barker aeroplanes.

I was thrilled that Billy Bishop’s son, Arthur – a WW2 fighter pilot, historian, and author -  not only enjoyed reading the first two of my Muskoka Novels, but also that he gave me these comments:

"The Summer Before The Storm and ElusiveDawn are not only well written, suspenseful, and enjoyable, but also historically accurate. The amazing amount of research provides an excellent educational background on the Great War and on aviation. The writer obviously has a keen interest in and knowledge of the subject."

No comments:

Post a Comment