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The War in the Air

The airplane, regarded by military authorities in 1914 as little more than a novelty, became over the next four years a military necessity. Remarkable technical advances in aerial warfare enabled the aircraft to fulfill ever-expanding functions. In the early stages of the war aircraft were used largely for reconnaissance, to observe enemy troop movements and spot artillery, and to obtain photographs and motion pictures. Then came the bombers and fighters as airmen sought to destroy railroad centres and industrial targets far behind enemy lines, to destroy Zeppelin bases, and to hunt submarines at sea.

Billy Bishop

The war in the air offered to the airman and to the public a glimpse of the fame and glory once expected of war, at a time when mud and shells turned battlefields into nightmares of horror and revulsion.

The flyer became a new kind of warrior - a chivalric, twentieth century, knight-errant. Men went up in rickety planes with few instruments and no parachutes. The fighter pilot was one of the elite, one of the most daring, and his job was one of the most dangerous. What started out as a hazardous adventure developed into a science of killing. One third of all the fliers died in combat, among them 1,600 Canadians.

Canadian airmen played a particularly significant and brilliant role in the air. No less than 25,000 Canadians served with the British air service as pilots, observers and mechanics, in every theatre of the war. Canadian airmen earned more than eight hundred decorations and awards for valour including three Victoria Crosses. The names of such Canadian flyers as W.A. "Billy" Bishop, W.G. Barker, Raymond Collishaw and A.A. McLeod became household names in Canada, and they left a record of daring and devotion that was famous everywhere.

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