Five Things I Learned About My Grandfather, Billy Bishop

Five Things I Learned About My Grandfather, Billy Bishop

Posted on April 6 by Diana Bishop in Non-fiction
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I grew up with a ghost. We all did in our family — the ghost of Billy Bishop — and that has meant for interesting times.

Like his other four grandchildren, I never knew my famous grandfather, the highly decorated First World War flying ace. I was only three years old when Billy died at the age of 62. But for our family, and as someone who has achieved almost mythical status in the annals of Canadian history, it feels as if grandpa Billy is still around, continuing to live on with us in spirit, shaping each of our lives in ways that we did not expect.

So when I started to write my memoir, Living Up to Legend, in order to explore my grandfather’s powerful legacy, not only did I record many personal family stories that I had heard about him all of my life, but I also discovered some surprising things about the magnetic man and his enduring brand that made him even more of a superhero to me.  Here are five of them:

1. Grandpa Billy could never wear a wristwatch.
My grandmother told me that every time Billy put one on, the hands eventually started to turn in the opposite direction, speeding up and then suddenly coming to an abrupt stop.  The watch no longer worked after that. That sounds pretty magical to me.

2. Billy was a hopeless romantic. 
When he went off to war in 1915, he started writing love letters to my grandmother, Margaret Eaton Burden. He continued to write to her until he returned home for a short break in 1917 when the couple married. Three hundred and sixty five of Billy’s love letters survived the war and are still in our family’s possession. I had a ball reading them and seeing a very personal side of the war hero.  

3. He was always in the air.
During his almost two years as a fighter pilot, my grandfather flew out to seek the enemy — even on his day off! Considering that the lifespan of a World War One pilot was about ten days, this was a reckless strategy indeed, but certainly a brave one!

4. He remained a daredevil even after the war.
Billy was hired by the Canadian National Exhibition to fly a biplane in a daily airshow. Wanting to make sure the audience got their money’s worth, one day Billy decided to dive low over the stands, which nearly gave everyone a heart attack and cause pandemonium. Needless to say, Billy was never asked back and his contract was cancelled.

5. The worth of Billy’s war medals.
Billy&;s war medals, which resided in my father’s underwear drawer during my childhood and include the coveted Victoria Cross, are some of the most priceless on the planet.  In the 60’s my father donated them to the Canadian War Museum believing that they belonged to all Canadians, and I understand they are now insured in the millions of dollars!


Diana Bishop

Posted by Dundurn Guest on June 7, 2016

Diana Bishop

Diana Bishop has spent twenty years as a TV news correspondent and independent film producer for CBC, CTV, Global Television, and NBC News, telling stories of some of the biggest newsmakers of the day. In 2002, she co-produced a documentary about her famous grandfather, First World War flying ace Billy Bishop, entitled A Hero to Me. Diana now runs a communications and personal branding business called The Success Story Program.