A rebuttal to an article in
The Canadian Historical Review

In 1989, seven years after the debut of "The Kid Who Couldn't Miss", an article appeared in a publication called The Canadian Historical Review, Vol. LXX, No. 2, by Brereton Greenhous, of the Directorate of History, Department of National Defence. This article was titled, "The Sad Case of Billy Bishop, VC."

In this article Mr. Greenhous talks about wars, heroes, the male psyche, it's need for heroic models, and how we create these heroic models if they don't show up of their own accord. This makes me wonder if Mr. Greenhous and Mr. Cowan are working together.

He then gets to Billy Bishop. Listing his various awards for heroism and service, though ending with "etc., etc.,". He even missed Billy's CB, mentioned the Croix de Guerre, but left out the French Legion of Honor which would have been listed before the Croix de Guerre. But I'm simply nit-picking. I'm usually good at that. He talks about Billy's book, "Winged Warfare", and equates it with Billy's "helping build his own legend". He also mentions Billy's son, Arthur Bishop's book about his father, "Courage of the Early Morning".

He then mentions the play, "Billy Bishop Goes to War". But then he mentions Paul Cowan, and the notorious movie, "The Kid Who Couldn't Miss". He talks about the Canadian Senate investigation, the outraged veterans, the apathetic young people of Canada, Dan McCaffery's book, "Billy Bishop, Canadian Hero", Clifford Chatterton's book, "Hanging a Legend". And through it all, he finds fault with just about everything, including Paul Cowan's travesty.

However, in discussing McCaffery's book, on the subject of Bishop's raid on the German aerodrome on 2 June, 1917, his comment on McCaffery's acceptance of Bishop's claim is this:

"He pins down the location to Estourmel while confessing that Jasta 5 records -- Jasta 5 was stationed there at the time--make no reference to a raid or to any losses. His argument is built around controversial facts, hearsay evidence, the unsupported recollections of old men, and his own rationalizations. It remains an incontrovertible fact, which McCaffery is honest enough to include, that in 1977 three out of five of Bishop's surviving comrades from 60 Squadron days declined to sign an RAF Museum commemorative 'first cover' bearing a stamp exalting the alleged raid."
So in other words, the people who support Bishop's claim on the VC raid are "old men" who's memory shouldn't be trusted. YET, the old men from Bishop's 60 Squadron days, who "claimed" to have always doubted Bishop, are to be believed?? Come now, Mr. Greenhous. You can't have your cake and eat it too. I know, I've tried. If you expect me to give any credence to what Willy Fry, or Grid Caldwell might say against Bishop, then I have to be willing to Give as much credence to Phil Townsend or George Stirrett. Wait..They might be trying to bask in the limelight you say? Trying to help an old friend by "backing him up"? Well, what do you suppose Fry or Caldwell were basking in when they refused to sign the RAF cover?? Probably lime-GREEN light, as in ENVY! They were probably thinking "Why him and not me?". That's the most likely but, not the only "reason" they changed their public tune on how they really felt about Bishop.

Then Mr. Greenhous goes on to list 10 points that he considers "the relevant indisputable facts of the matter" They are as follows.

  1. Even his staunchest defenders admit that, while attending the Royal Military College of Canada in 1914, Bishop was caught cheating in an examination.
  2. Many First World War airmen were credited with victories they did not win. There are major discrepancies between Entente claims and actual enemy losses, and vice versa. An uncertain proportion of false claims were certainly the result of genuine mistakes on both sides.
  3. Bishop was a superior fighter pilot and was generally accepted as such by his peers. He often chose to fly alone, which meant that there could be no eye-witness substantiation of many of his claims unless his victims fell on Entente soil; most often they did not.
  4. His letters home reveal an intensely ambitious character, determined to achieve distinction in the air war and increasingly anxious to improve his 'score.'
  5. His commanding officer in 60 Squadron, Jack Scott, had been a well-known London lawyer in civil life, a Home Counties squire and MFH, and an influential figure in British 'establishment' circles. He was indebted to Bishop for almost certainly saving his life in a dogfight; and he was an uncritical admirer who apparently made a habit of confirming all Bishop's claims without question.
  6. The Royal Flying Corps badly needed an heroic figure to match that of von Richthofen, after it's morale had been weakened by the heavy losses of 'Bloody April.' The young Albert Ball (credited with forty-four victories) was being groomed for this role when he failed to return from a sortie on 7 May, 1917.
  7. Bishop talked about the idea of raiding a German airfield on the evening of 1 June, 1917 and before he took off the next morning, he asked a fellow pilot (for the second time) to accompany him. Apparently, at that time he fully intended to make such a raid.
  8. In the course of his unique raid, he claimed to have shot down three enemy aircraft as well as inflicting damage on the ground. But the 'Weekly Activity' reports of the German 2nd and 6th aviation groups (whose airfields were the only ones Bishop could possibly have attacked) make no mention of any such raid. Their losses by cause for 2 June, 1917 list one machine shot down by anti-aircraft fire west of St. Quentin (2nd Group) and one crashed, cause unknown (6th Group).
  9. No other VC has ever been awarded without some eye-witness substantiation, even though on at least one occasion, it had to be provided by the enemy.
  10. When he came to take command of 85 Squadron (and therefore to confirm his own combat reports), Bishop's proportion of unsubstantiated claims rose again. On his last day in combat, 19 June, 1918, when he claimed five enemy aircraft destroyed, the German Air Service did not record any losses in air-to-air combat.
Mr. Greenhous then goes into the merits of each point, as to whether they go in Bishop's favor or against him. He says the following:
"Going back to the significant facts, only point 8 and the second part of point 10 can be used as specific documentary evidence against Bishop, and each of them can be countered, after a fashion, by his appropriate combat reports. Those reports are positive evidence, while the German 'Weekly Activity' reports are negative in nature. His combat reports, however, are unsubstantiated and work to Bishop's personal benefit, while it is hard to imagine that the Germans would have failed to record in their activity reports a new enemy tactic which had cost them dearly, and which might well cost them dearly again unless it was countered. Point 7 works in his favour, but is certainly not conclusive.

Fundamentally at least six, and arguably eight, of the ten points go against Bishop and, taken together, they create a pattern which does nothing to inspire confidence in his official record. That he was a brave man and a fine fighter pilot with a number of genuine victories to his credit, is indisputable. However, when all the flim-flam and ad hominem arguments have been stripped away, the argument for Bishop being everything he claimed to be - and which other have claimed him to be - is weak."

Let's look at Mr. Greenhous' point 8.
On Bishop's famous raid of 2 June, 1917 he claimed that three enemy aircraft were shot down and crashed at the aerodrome. Which by the way, Bishop never said where the raid took place because he admitted he was unsure of his location. According to his combat report for that raid, he got two of them as they were taking off, so they obviously didn't have far to fall. The 3rd he engaged at under 1000 feet altitude. This one didn't have far to fall either. Now, I would postulate that it's highly probable that all 3 aircraft had repairable damage, and were not totally destroyed as a result of enemy action. I have been told by professional historians that the Germans didn't always report damaged aircraft, only destroyed beyond repair. And considering the lack of altitude, it's highly likely that NONE of the three pilots were seriously injured or killed.

By the same token, the records of Jasta 20, which was at Esnes aerodrome, 4 miles from Estourmel, shows no activity, based on the way those records were recorded by a German historian named "Turnuss". However, when the records for Jasta 20 do show activity again in July, 3 pilots are missing, and there is no known explanation for this. Could it be that these 3 pilots were killed or seriously wounded and sent home?? Who knows. Certainly not Mr. Greenhous. In addition, Jasta 20 was not assigned to the German 4th Army, which was the area they were in at the time of Bishop's attack. Consequently, if it WAS Esnes and Jasta 20 that he struck, there's every likely hood that a report would NOT have been filed with 4th Army HQ.

Now for point 10. But I'm gonna take on the WHOLE statement.
Mr. Greenhous makes it a point to show that as Squadron commander, Bishop could confirm his own claims even without substantiation. If this is so, how come Bishop had an unconfirmed claim on 30 May, 1918??? Did he decide on his own not to confirm this?? This doesn't sound like the Billy Bishop that Mr. Greenhous is presenting.

As to the second part of point 10, that the Germans claim they lost no aircraft to combat on 19 June, 1918. I will refer to a book called "Tiger Squadron" by British Ace Ira "Taffy" Jones, himself, no lover of Bishop. In his book, he states the following:

"On June 19, 1918, Major (later Colonel) Billy Bishop, VC, DSO, MC, DFC, who was commanding 85 Squadron, shot down five Huns before breakfast, and Captain Cobby DSO, MC, DFC, Number 1 Australian Squadron, shot down one Hun after tea. These were the only victories claimed that day by the Royal Air Force. In reply to our query, the German Air Ministry said [after the war] that they had lost neither pilots nor aircraft on June 19. I know for a fact that that statement was a lie. Captain Cobby's victim was lying, riddled with bullets, in my hangar at Clamarais North aerodrome, near Saint Omer, on the evening in question."
For if Jones was calling the Germans liars about Capt. Cobby's victory, even though he didn't say it directly, he also implied they lied about Bishop's claims for that day.

This from Ira Jones, a Bishop detractor during, and immediately after the war himself. I have never discovered the reason for the argument between Jones and Bishop, as far as I know, neither ever made it public. And as far as I've been able to discover, Jones never called Bishop a liar either. I think if he had, it would have made for a worthy news item.

I should also like to point out that even though he hated Bishop, Jones never disputed Bishop's score. Indeed, what he did to make himself happy was to inflate the score of his dead friend, Edward Mannock to 73, one more than Bishop.

I should also like to point out that two of Bishop's 5 victories that day, were witnessed by a F2B crew from a distance. They SAW two German planes crash, and in the area and time that Bishop claimed he got those two.

Concerning Point 5,
In it, Mr. Greenhous claims that the commander of 60 Squadron, Jack Scott would confirm all of Bishop's claims with out question. Well then, I've already mentioned one of Bishop's UNCONFIRMED claims, which happened during his stint as CO of 85 Squadron. He had 4 other UN-confirmed claims, all whilst flying with 60 Squadron. The first was claimed on 6 April, 1917. The next on 8 April, 1917. The 3rd one on 30 April, 1917. And the 4th and last on 2 May, 1917. From everything I can find, Jack Scott was active as the Squadron Commander during this time. He actually wasn't out of action temporarily until AFTER Bishop's airfield raid. In fact, even after Jack Scott was promoted to Colonel and sent back, ALL of Bishop's claims were confirmed by the new commanding officer. I think we can pretty much discount point 5 as well.

On Point 6:
The RFC may have needed a hero, but since they weren't really allowed to publicize their "shining aces" like Bishop Ball and the rest, what good would it have done them? And even if Ball was being groomed as the RFC hero, then I suppose it would not be out of line to presume that Bishop's claims got no special treatment from higher ups, while Albert Ball was still alive, with the possible exception of his Squadron CO, Major Scott. I think that as a point against Bishop, we can ignore this one safely.

Concerning point 7:
Mr. Greenhous mentions that Bishop talked about doing the raid the night before, as though this was something he decided to do within 24 hours before doing it. Reportedly, Bishop had discussed the idea with Albert Ball before Ball's death the previous month. The idea was that they would do it together. Now with Ball dead, Bishop was left without a partner to do the raid with. He mentioned it the night before because he wanted to have someone along. There is strength in numbers, and he wanted at least one other person with him. Having failed to convince any of his fellows to go with, he then decided to do the job alone.

On point 4:
I get the feeling that Mr. Greenhous didn't read ALL of Bishop's letters home. If he had, he would have seen the emotional and psychological change that was effecting Bishop. Suffice it to say, this is further evidence that some people don't follow through with proper research.

And now, FINALLY on Point 1:1
According to Ross McKenzie, the assistant registar of RMC and curator of the RMC Museum, Bishop did not get caught cheating on exams in 1914. Instead, according to his research2 the academic dishonesty with which Bishop has been charged on numerous occasion of late, occured during Bishop's first year, 1911-1912. While the exact nature of the offense is not known, the punishment is. Bishop was temporarily suspended, or "rusticated" and required to repeat the academic year. Rustication, according to RMC regulations of 1912, was awarded for "use of any improper means of obtaining information relative to an examination."

In conclusion, I think that Mr. Greenhous didn't do enough research. If he had, his article would most likely have had a different title. For it is certain that at least 7, "arguably" 8 of his 10 points are not so indisputable as he thought. Taking into account that he considered 6 and "arguably 8" of the 10 points went against Bishop, I think I've got him down to ZERO, at the most, MAYBE 1 point against Bishop now.

Basically Mr. Greenhous, YOUR claim that "the argument for Bishop is weak." , is a weak one it's self. Your points don't hold up. And your research is VERY lacking. I would challenge you to prove your point, but it would likely be a waste of time, especially since I now doubt that you are up to the task.


1 This current information comes courtesy of David Bashow through his book, "Knights of the Air" page 101.
2Col. Bashow credits Mr. McKenzie's book, "The Real Case of No. 943", his work on Bishop's RMC years.
Created: September 12, 1998
Last updated: May 24, 2001
©1998 by Albert Lowe. All rights reserved.
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