Billy Bishop is probably Canada’s best known First World War Flying Ace. In addition to his Victoria Cross he was also awarded the Companion of the Most Honorable Order the Bath (UK), the DSO and Bar, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Croix de Guerre avec Palmes and Legion d’Honneur (France).
His Victoria Cross action is described as follows:
Early in the morning of June 2, 1917 Bishop was up and ready to raid the Germans. He tried to get Willy Fry to come with him, but Fry had a serious hangover from the night’s party and refused to get out of bed. So Bish went alone. He flew over the lines and headed for Cambrai towards the aerodrome he had chosen for his attack. He arrived just as the sun came up and found no activity and no planes at all. The place was deserted. He circled around for a bit thinking and waiting to see if anyone would show up. No one did. He left angry, flying at random trying to find something to shoot up. He was about to head for home when he saw the buildings of another aerodrome to one side. He banked sharply and headed for them. It was Estourmel, the home of Jadgstaffel 5 headed by Staffel Fuhrer Lt. Werner Voss. Seven aircraft, a two-seat Rumpler recon. plane and six Albatros scout aircraft (reported by Bishop to be DIIIs, although Voss’s Staffel no longer used the type), were lined up, motors running waiting for the pilots and observer.Bishop banked and dived, coming in perpendicular to the flight line and fired a 97-round drum of 0.303 bullets into the aircraft, killing one mechanic. Then he pulled off doing a series of slow-speed turns waiting for an Albatros to come up to challenge him. The ground troops got several machine guns into action and nearly hit Bishop. A rookie pilot warming his engine accepted the challenge and took off. But his engine wasn’t fully warmed up and he couldn’t get enough power to take off easily. Bishop swooped around onto his tail and fired dropping the aircraft onto the field. Another Albatros took off and Bishop circled around to his 6 o’clock and fired but missed the pilot. The German swerved and hit a tree, mangling the wings and dropping the aircraft. Neither pilot was injured.Now his real troubles began. Two Albatroses took off together. Going for the nearest plane he began a circling contest for a firing position. With two opponents this is usually suicide, however, one German pilot stayed out of the action, presumably he thought to give his compatriot the honour of downing the arrogant Brit. The Nieuport was a tighter turner than the DIII and Bishop finally got in a clear shot, dropping the DIII onto the field. He swung head on towards the fourth German and fired the entire drum of 0.303 ammunition at him. missing completely. But this seems to have unnerved the German pilot, he swung away and landed.
Bishop pulled away from Estourmel with a jammed gun, afraid the Germans on the ground would have telephoned nearby Jastas for help. Near the front lines he spotted a flight of DIIIs and stayed immediately beneath them until he could make a run for the front lines. The Germans rarely chased an Allied pilot across the lines. He made his way back to his base. Unharmed and jubilant. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for this audacious action. But he earned the distrust of some of his comrades, they believed he had become too ambitious and may have made up the attack.