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10 Little Known Facts about the real Billy Bishop

October 15, 2012

As a salute to Globe Theatre’s sterling production of Billy Bishop Goes to War, here are 10 tidbits from a folder I keep that I’ve labelled REALLY? I DIDN’T KNOW THAT!

1. William Avery “Billy” Bishop, the future First World War flying ace, was only 15 years old when he made his initial flight, in an aircraft he had constructed himself. It was a “plane” assembled from scrap cardboard, an old wooden crate, and some string. He launched it from the roof of his family’s three-storey house in Owen Sound, Ont., and somehow managed to escape serious injury. Parents back then kept no closer watch on their children than they do today.

2. The Germans had at least two nicknames for Billy Bishop. “Hell’s Handmaiden” and “The Blue Nosed Devil.” I say “at least,” because I’m sure they called him a number of other things as well.

3. Our hero had an encounter with Manfred von Richthofen and lived to tell the tale. Yes, THAT Manfred von Richthofen. The Red Baron! Rumour has it, “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz was well aware of this and, being an American, shamelessly chose to ignore it.

4. Bishop was married to one Margaret Burden, granddaughter of Timothy Eaton, of department store fame.

5. He kept a mistress in France.

6. As a young man, he charged his sister five bucks to go on dates with her friends.

7. In 1928, Bishop was made an honourary member of an association of German fighter pilots in Berlin. No hard feelings, eh?

8. As he had done in the Second World War, Bishop offered his services to his country as a recruiter and trainer during the Korean War. This time, he was turned down, politely, of course, due to his failing health.

9. There remain suspicions among his doubters that Bishop exaggerated, perhaps even fabricated, some of his adventures, because there were no eyewitnesses to verify them.

10. William Avery “Billy” Bishop spent his final days basking in the sunshine in Florida, where life’s a beach and then you dine.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Globe Theatre website at www.globetheatrelive.com.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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