Winged Warfare Over Britain
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Nov 1940, p. 167-178
Bishop, Air Marshal William A. (Billy), Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club.
The speaker's recent flight across the Atlantic. The civilian population in England and how they are coping. Bomb damage. An illustrative anecdote of the British attitude and courage in this time of danger. The speaker's flight in a light machine from one place to another throughout England. The flight heroes of today. Checking our figures of claims of machines shot down for accuracy. The victory that has already been achieved. The veracity of damage claimed. Precautions against invasion. The speaker's meetings with Mr. Churchill, and the King. Time spent with the Royal Canadian Air Force in England. Heavy raids in London. The people of Britain counting on the people in Canada. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Two dominant thoughts in this hour of Britain's formidable ordeal: succour for the grief-stricken and homeless and punishment for the criminals who have done this thing. The role that once belonged alone to the Mother of our Empire now belonging to all the Empire. The Empire after this travail.
Date of Original
7 Nov 1940
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Full Text
Chairman: The President, The Honourable G. Howard Ferguson.
Thursday, November 7, 1940

A Joint Meeting of the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club was held in the Royal York Hotel, Toronto, on Thursday, November 7, 1940.

THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: Gentlemen: Once long ago someone wrote or said that a prophet was not without honour save in his own country. Today, I think we have an emphatic demonstration of the lack of truth of that statement. We have all been interested, of course, in the continuous expansion and progress that Canada has made, particularly since she became a Confederation. But we all agree that no single incident in our history gave us such status, such prominence and importance in the world of affairs as did the achievement of the Canadian boys who went out in 1914-1918. From that time we have seemed to get new inspiration, fresh encouragement and in fact new life was innoculated into the whole Canadian people. No one played a greater part in that Great War and brought greater prestige and credit to Canada than did the guest we have with us today, Air Marshal Bishop. Notwithstanding his size, he was able to do up seventy-two Germans, himself, I think. Now, he has taken on the whole German Army, as Air Marshal of the Canadian Air Force, and we look forward with every confidence to the endeavours of the organization he promotes, giving an even better record, because there are larger numbers and the situation is perhaps more serious than in the last war.

It is not my purpose to say a word of introduction about Billy Bishop, personally. Everybody here knows him. The best introduction he can have and the best compliment paid him is to have before him this large audience who are interested in his work and in his career, and are here to pay him a well deserved compliment. I have, therefore, great pleasure in asking Air Marshal Bishop to address you for a short time. (Applause.)

AIR MARSHAL W. A. BISHOP, V.C., D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C.: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: It is hard for me to thank you for a welcome like that. It is very much like coming home to address this gathering here today in Toronto, as I have had the honour of speaking to you so many times in the past. I can assure you I appreciate that honour, and particularly in this case, so soon after my return from a short and flying visit to England.

When I say "flying visit", I must admit that when I made the decision to fly the ocean it came back vividly to my mind that for the last twenty years my New Year's resolutions have always been two; one I knew I would be able to keep-not to swim the English Channel--the other, not to fly the Atlantic. Being Irish, I have to admit that when it came to deciding to break one of these resolutions I had a few qualms. However, I have no intention, especially now, of breaking the first one.

The actual flight across the ocean was uneventful. We had a short stop in Newfoundland and a very good meal, then late in the afternoon took off for the Irish Coast. A strong wind was following us and far below, through the broken clouds, I could see great heavy rollers moving across the waters. There were no ships in sight but had there been, I, an airman not a sailor, would not have traded my position for theirs. Our trip was smooth, the only real discomfort being that it was very cold. Our ship was stripped of everything but essentials, but we all managed to sleep most of the way.

On landing in Ireland I went for a short walk through the country lanes to stretch my legs and came across a delightful Irish policeman. I asked him if he had heard any news of what happened in London the night before. "Sure", he said, "They bombed London all night long. There were some people killed but I don't think there was any harm done."

I had undertaken the trip to England to see amongst other things exactly how the civilian population was taking the terrific hammering of the aerial blitzkrieg. Immediately on landing I found just what I had expected-a cheerful, determined attitude in the midst of a vicious and sustained attack.

Driving to London was, after the last war, a strange experience. Now, as then, one saw constant signs of war activity but of course now it is different and at first hard to realize--despatch riders on motorcycles going full speed here and there--convoys of lorries everywhere. It seemed very like the last war but the great difference lay in this fact--that all the activity of which I was witness was not training or practising for war. This was the front line.

Through a beautiful countryside that should be immune from attack, here and there one would see damage done by bombs-in the green fields and the pasture lands, here and there great black patches where an enemy machine had bitten the dust. On the roads one constantly met great trucks with long trailers carrying the remains of crashed German machines.

Throughout the whole of my visit I saw many and repeated raids and discussed the war with dozens and dozens of people whose places had been bombed and often completely destroyed. They were all cheerful. They were all carrying on. They were all anxious to know what we felt about them in Canada. And in their minds as one thought, that confident in the knowledge that full-hearted support and help was coming from the sister nations, they would hold on with the sternest determination, regardless of whatever hardships and frightfulness might lie ahead. (Applause.)

From the papers and magazines one sees, London appears to be in ruins. That is, of course, very far from being the case. When I left I was informed by most reliable authorities that London was being destroyed at the rate of 4 percent per annum. That gives her a very long life.

One experience I had, completely describes the attitude of Britain in this hour of danger. I give it to, you as I saw it, first-hand.

Driving through the northern suburbs I suddenly heard the crash of bombs in front of me. We arrived in less than half a minute at the crossroads where the first bomb dropped. Already a policeman was diverting the traffic. Already Air Raid Precaution men were picking up debris and actually brushing up the street.

We were diverted to the right-again I saw policemen running here and there, and when the traffic was stopped I decided to get out of my car and walk through the district. It was one of those more or less new London suburbs-nice little houses with sweet little gardens and hedges in front of them. Houses close together and nice wide roads. As I walked down, everywhere, in front of every house, there were groups of people standing by the gateway, all excitedly discussing what had happened. And what had happened was that a bomber had darted out of the clouds and dropped five bombs over this peaceful little district-the last place in the world that could be described as a military objective.

The only damage that appeared to have been done was that windows were shattered over what would be four or five of our city blocks. Anyway, I saw nobody injured, although there must have been a few, but in every case I found these people looking at their own house and then looking at their neighbour's house and laughing good-naturedly about it.

I saw in one case a woman running out of a house carrying a small boy of three or four, and with a broad smile on her face she was calling back to whosever house it was-"Thanks so much for looking after him." That is the spirit that I found everywhere.

Inside another house that I passed, a man was already-although the place had only been bombed three or four minutes before-hitting furiously with a walking stick or umbrella, at the jagged ends of glass left in his window. From across the street a neighbour was chivying him about his blind. He looked up, saw his window blind above him in tatters, tore it down and hurling it through the vacant window, laughed as he shouted back, "There's the bloody thing!"

On my trips through the countryside which I tried first of all by motor car, I saw many things that were amusing in their cheerfulness. Here is a country at war-any section or part of which may be blown to bits at any moment-but yet, on the main roadway, referring of course to their national effort, they put up huge billboard signs saying, "GO TO IT!" Of course, as a result everybody is driving too fast.

Another sign which expresses best of all the pure British humour was, "BE LIKE DAD, KEEP MUM". I also saw in a newspaper the headline-"IF YOUR HOUSE GOES GIVE THE POST OFFICE YOUR NEW ADDRESS". It is going to take a long time to beat a nation that, in a moment when their enemies claim they are beaten to their knees, paint signs like that on their billboards.

When I found it was impossible in the short time available for me to visit as many places as I wanted to by road, I decided with some trepidation to fly in a light machine from one place to another.

This is not quite as simple as it sounds to us here in Canada, because the weather in Britain is misty for the most part and cloudy at the wrong time of the day. Then, too, German machines now have a habit of popping out of the clouds at unexpected places. Sometimes they are lost-but when they do pop out it doesn't much matter, if you are near them, whether they are lost or not.

Three of us, one day, flew in a small machine around the outskirts of London and near the East Coast of England in its most raid-ridden time, completely unarmed except for a Very pistol which I could not have got out of its socket without taking my shoe off. Trying to negotiate our way so as to avoid the balloon barrages was, without giving any secrets away, like going through the most complicated mine field that one could imagine.

In every paper you pick up you read about the stirring battles in the air that occur over Britain. I saw many of them and could not have been more stirred or more thrilled. Those fighter pilots of ours are superb. Daily, in raid after raid, dozens of enemy planes coming at the same time were shattered and beaten and sent limping home. But what one doesn't hear so much about is the magnificent work that our bombers are doing.

On the coasts of France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway daily and nightly they hammer the enemy. Far into Germany and as far as Poland these men-boys in years some of them, but men just the same--penetrate, operating, by a navigation system that is an education in itself, to their exact objective, then, finding what weather conditions they may, sometimes spending an hour or more over a spot, they carefully select their objective. We do not, as the Germans are doing, do any indiscriminate bombing; our objectives are all military objectives. (Applause.)

To the men who fly these machines belongs the highest praise. And when I say those men who fly these machines, let me make it very clear that I am not referring to the pilots alone. It seems to me that the day when the pilot got all the credit is most definitely, and rightly, gone. In the old days the pilot's assistant, then known as the observer and now known as members of the aircrew, did not receive the credit due them. Things have changed now. The air observer, the air gunner and the wireless operator are recognized as being the most important people on that aircraft.

I was once an observer myself and how proud I am that I had that experience. I never see one of our men with an air gunner's or observer's badge on that I do not thrill with pride and think of the days when I was one of the first to wear that badge.

On these great and important flights they are the heroes-they are the men who are fighting your battle and my battle-night by night, through cloud and storm, hundreds and hundreds of miles far into skies torn by blasting shells.

It has occurred to me that a great deal of doubt exists in some people's minds as to the accuracy of the figures published in our official claims of machines shot down and those that we admit lost. It was part of my duty on my visit abroad to find out at first hand how our figures were arrived at. May I here and now give you my word of honour that our claims of figures, our statements of enemy losses, are most definitely conservative. I have seen the physical results and have had the opportunity of studying the methods by which these figures are quoted. On the other hand the statements of our own losses are absolutely accurate.

The German statements are as truthful and sincere as Hitler's promises have been since he came into power. What I feel we do not realize is that already we have won a great victory. The British are masters of understatement. We have already achieved that of which, being British, we will not boast for some months or years to come.

Also the question undoubtedly arises in people's minds--"Are we doing as much damage as we claim by our bombing?" There again I can give you my word. I actually saw photographs of a very famous German battleship--off which our bombers blew the tail. I saw photographs of her in dry dock being repaired, and after being rebuilt, confirmation photographs of bombing which had again damaged her severely. What of course had happened was this--that the repeat attacks were delayed until the most propitious moment arrived, whereupon again her tail was more than twisted.

Precautions against invasion are beyond belief and finding one's way around England is so difficult it is indescribable. I had the most hopeless afternoon trying to get across country in a motor car from the west of London. At a fork on a main road where I was puzzled, I went into a pub standing beside the road to enquire my way. The proprietor told me that he didn't know which was the right road; he had only been there six weeks and he had not been outside the door. I asked his wife if she knew and she said she did not; also the barman, whom by pure chance I saw. The reply was the same. At last I found my way myself and learned later that those people had been living in that part for forty years.

During my visit over there I was called to Downing Street for a chat with Mr. Churchill, whom I knew very well in less troublesome times. Suffice it to say that I found him exactly as one pictures him when listening to his inspiring broadcasts-strong, fearless and determined-the stern, courageous, unflinching leader of his people-nay more, the leader of all there is left of freedom in the world today. (Applause.) Great crises in England have produced great men. The threat of Napoleon gave her Pitt. The menace of Hitlerism gave us Winston Churchill. (Applause.)

I also had the honour of a three-quarter-hour audience with the King and I feel that it was as a compliment to our Service that he received me wearing the uniform of Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Let me say here that every person that I met in England is full of the most profound admiration for both Their Majesties. Their work has been tireless. They are a constant inspiration to their people. The anger at the bombing of Buckingham Palace is tremendous.

My audience with the King was in the same room in which he sat during the last raid on the Palace. "He explained to me what happened. A bomb burst first of all in front of the Palace, then the second one in the Inner Court. Hearing the first, he was looking out the window when the second one burst on the opposite side of the Court to his room. He pointed out to me from the same window the men still repairing the damage that was done.

The people of England have never been so close to each other as they are today--all on one level--all working for one purpose. The poorest know that the richest and the highest in the land are being bombed and taking it just as they are. (Applause.) There is no more security in palaces than in humble cottages. All are together in this combat--all in the front line.

Naturally I spent as much time as possible with our Royal Canadian Air Force over there. They have established wonderful reputations. No. 1 Fighter Squadron has been used for some time as a shock troop squadron and they have well deserved that honour. On all hands I heard the highest praise of them. The officers I found in very good spirits, very serious and determined, but optimistic and full of confidence-delighted on all occasions to engage the enemy wherever they could find him.

During some of my clays in London, there were heavy raids and with a clear sky I was able to watch a number of fights in the air--much quicker and faster than in my old days but the same tactics, the same manoeuvres, the same dash and verve. A modern fight in the air reminds one rather of a very exciting attack on goal in a fast hockey game-machines darting in and out at incredible speed.

So I have come back having seen the people of this great nation fighting for their very life over their own soil, determined that not one inch of that beloved land shall ever belong to an invader. They are counting on us. They are holding on, knowing that the fullest support in every possible way will come from us to them. To them the picture is one of the Empire on the march. They know that we are with them through and through.

They count on our pilots and aircrews to help them hold that land and they know that in our schools in Canada, on our spreading air fields, is the spirit of boundless vitality, of unquenchable eagerness not to be left out of the great fight for a great cause.

A quarter of a century ago it was the privilege of many of us to go to Britain to help in a great conflict, to do our humble best towards victory. today we are again in the heart of a still greater conflict, and having so recently seen them in action, it is with the most intense admiration, with the most profound pride, that I salute the matchless splendour of our young airmen today-who through challenge and combat hold grimly and relentlessly the captaincy of the clouds that roll over Britain. (Applause.)

Twenty-five years ago we had difficult and unequal fighting in the skies but twenty-two years ago we drove the pirate Huns out of the skies of Europe. We did it then and we will do it again.

May I repeat-the Empire is on the march. We are all together, and, as the months roll by, trained pilots and aircrews in their thousands will proceed to the other side to do once again what their forebears did before-blaze the trail of combat and of conquest with Britain-beside her--fighting together until the last Messerschmitt fades away and the sound of Dorniers and Heinkels is no longer heard in the land.

The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan is a great success. It was a great conception that will be a magnificent contribution to ultimate victory. A steady flow of pilots, air observers, wireless operators, air gunners, has already begun its course from Canada to the other side. That stream of reinforcements, all splendidly trained, will increase from week to week.

It is my definite and sincere belief that the results of this Empire Air Training Plan may well prove to be the most vital factor in our victory. There is no question in my mind-Germany will not be able to produce the quality of air personnel capable of meeting, without defeat, such as we will send forth.

Hitler is at last confronted with a force and with a people that relies upon the staunch spirit of men and women who will fight and die for a just cause; who value their freedom more than anything else. They believe with Pericles that "Happiness is freedom and freedom is courage."

In this hour of Britain's formidable ordeal, there are but two dominant thoughts-succour for the grief-stricken and homeless and punishment for the criminals who have done this thing.

The role that once belonged alone to the Mother of our Empire now belongs to all the Empire. The heavy load of responsibility now falls upon the Commonwealth of democratic peoples. The tasks ahead may be hard and heavy-they most definitely will be. today the encouragement, the inspiration and the fullest effort of all the Empire must be given without stint to the Mother of us all, "One who never turned her back, but marched breast forward".

They, our kith and kin, are, indeed, veritable sleepless sentinels upon the furthest frontiers of freedom. I say to you with the greatest sincerity, without reservations of any kind, that as a result of what I have seen I am still further convinced that England shall stand-and the Empire will in future, after these times of travail, be a greater, more vital, more decisive factor in world history than it ever has been before. (Prolonged applause.)

MR. R. A. COURTICE (President of the Canadian Club): Mr. Chairman, that stimulating address must give us all added pride and confidence in the English people, in the Royal and the Royal Canadian Air Force and in the ultimate triumph of the cause for which they are fighting.

In addition to the great contribution that the Air Marshal is making to our war effort in the air, he has become a top flight ambassador for the British Empire. When he arrived in England on his recent trip he broadcast a message of good cheer from Canada to the British Isles. And we know that it was received enthusiastically over there.

In expressing to you, Sir, the sincere thanks of the Empire and the Canadian Clubs for this inspiring address, I do so with the wish that you may have continued health and strength to carry on the great work you are doing for Canada and the Empire. (Applause.)

HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: Gentlemen I am not attempting to add a word to what Mr. Courtice has so well said in appreciation of the Air Marshal's address today. I would like, however, to point out that we have with us some distinguished guests. We have another man who has come back home--MajorGeneral Constantine. (Applause.) Then, we have our old friend, the Prime Minister of Ontario, who resists all my efforts to keep him in the straight and narrow way and persists in pursuing his own wayward course, but we are delighted to have him here. (Applause.) I can't say that he is coming back home, he may be going back home. I am not expressing any opinion because I am entirely non-partisan. However, we are delighted to have the Prime Minister with us. I am sure you will all agree about that. (Applause.)

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Winged Warfare Over Britain

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club.
The speaker's recent flight across the Atlantic. The civilian population in England and how they are coping. Bomb damage. An illustrative anecdote of the British attitude and courage in this time of danger. The speaker's flight in a light machine from one place to another throughout England. The flight heroes of today. Checking our figures of claims of machines shot down for accuracy. The victory that has already been achieved. The veracity of damage claimed. Precautions against invasion. The speaker's meetings with Mr. Churchill, and the King. Time spent with the Royal Canadian Air Force in England. Heavy raids in London. The people of Britain counting on the people in Canada. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Two dominant thoughts in this hour of Britain's formidable ordeal: succour for the grief-stricken and homeless and punishment for the criminals who have done this thing. The role that once belonged alone to the Mother of our Empire now belonging to all the Empire. The Empire after this travail.