William Avery Bishop attended the Royal Military College before joining the 8th Canadian Mounted Rifles at the beginning of the war. After serving overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in December 1915 and received his pilot's certificate in 1917. Flying the Nieuport 17 and S.E.5a, "The Lone Hawk" was considered by some to be a mediocre pilot, but his extraordinary eyesight and consistent practice earned him a reputation as a crack shot. As the commanding officer of the "Flying Foxes," he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) after scoring 25 victories in just twelve days. On the morning of 2 June 1917, his single-handed attack against a German aerodrome on the Arras front earned him the Victoria Cross, making Bishop the first Canadian flyer to receive this honor. Before the war ended, he found time to write "Winged Warfare," an autobiographical account of his exploits in the air over France.
Because Bishop flew many of his patrols alone, most of his victories were never witnessed. After years of controversy, a television broadcast entitled "The Kid Who Couldn't Miss" led to an inquiry by the Canadian government in 1985. In conclusion, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology discredited the film, finding it to be an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of Bishop.
Bishop was the brother-in-law of Canadian ace Henry Burden. He died, age 62, at his winter home in Palm Beach, Florida.
"The most important thing in fighting was shooting, next the various tactics in coming into a fight and last of all flying ability itself." William Bishop1
"In nearly all cases where machines have been downed, it was during a fight which had been very short, and the successful burst of fire had occurred within the space of a minute after the beginning of actual hostilities." William Bishop1
"[Like] nearly all other pilots who come face to face with the [enemy] in the air for the first time, I could hardly realize that these were real live, hostile machines. I was fascinated by them and wanted to circle about and have a good look at them." William Bishop1
"He must be able to loop, turn his machine over on its back, and do various other flying 'stunts'—not that these are actually necessary during a combat, but from the fact that he has done these things several times he gets absolute confidence, and when the fight comes along he is not worrying about how the machine will act. He can devote all his time to fighting the other fellow, the flying part of it coming instinctively." William Bishop1
Lt. William Avery Bishop, Can. Cav. and R.F.C.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He attacked a hostile balloon on the ground, dispersed the crew and destroyed the balloon, and also drove down a hostile machine which attacked him. He has on several other occasions brought down hostile machines.
Supplement to the London Gazette, 26 May 1917 (30095/5186)
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
Capt. William Avery Bishop, Can. Cav., and R.F.C.
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 to others.
Supplement to the London Gazette, 18 June 1917, (30135/5980)
Victoria Cross (VC)
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 oft 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.
Supplement to the London Gazette, 11 August 1917
Distinguished Service Order (DSO) Bar
Lt. (T./Capt.) William Avery Bishop, V.C., D.S.O., M.C., Can. Cav. and R.F.C.
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 single-handed, 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.
(D.S.O. gazetted 18th June, 1917.)
Supplement to the London Gazette, 9 January 1918 (30466/557)
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
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.
Supplement to the London Gazette, 3 August 1918 (30827/9198)