In remembrance of The Great War during this centenary year, this blog will explore the intriguing social history of that tumultuous time. The first two of my Muskoka Novels – "The Summer Before the Storm" and "Elusive Dawn" – take place from 1914-1918. During my four years of research I accumulated a trunkful of notes, and will illuminate some of the more interesting and unusual tidbits, beginning with the Age of Elegance.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Daredevils of the Skies
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 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
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
"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."