|By Mary Baxter
Hero or wanna-be?
Challenges to local legend Billy Bishop's hero status continue to be launched on the internet.
And, ironically, it's an American to the rescue.
The Owen Sound-born Bishop first came under revisionist - historians' fire in an early 1980s documentary that questioned the accuracy of Bishop's account of an early-morning attack on a German aerodrome during World War I.
|     "At the time he did it, it was something no one else had done," said Al Lowe, a computer technician based near Chicago, Illinois and a loyal admirer of the war-time flying ace.
On June 2, 1917, in a mission he flew alone, Bishop attacked the aerodrome behind German lines in France, and shot down three aircraft. He was later awarded a Victoria Cross for the mission.
No records or witnesses to the event remain and experts are still unsure which aerodrome was the tar-
|get - issues brought out in a 1982 movie called The Kid Who Couldn't Miss, directed by Paul Cowan.
The movie insinuated that Bishop may have made up the event in a last desperate attempt to become a hero, relying heavily on the records of another pilot at that time, Lowe said.
When it first aired, the movie caused such controversy that hearings in the national senate were held and demands made to reclassify the National Film Board production as a docudrama (NFB Internet listings
|now describe the film as a docudrama). But Lowe was not aware of the controversy until he first saw the movie on PBS in 1992.
&;quot;It totally floored me," he said, recalling how he had at first looked forward to learning more about his childhood hero.
As he communicated with other amateur historians on the internet, he learned others shared doubts about Bishop with some calling in to doubt his whole record.
So he decided to establish his own
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website where he has gathered as much evidence as he can to make his case in support of Bishop.
More than 50 years after it all happened, it's hard to gather evidence, he said, adding that many records were destroyed during the war years.
Michael Cain, vice-president of the Billy Bishop Museum board in Owen Sound and a supporter of Bishop, the hero, said Bishop's confirmed record of downed planes is about 72. But while some say it's less, it could very well be more, he said.
Cain also said there would have been some proof needed for Bishop to earn the awards and recognition.
However, he also recognizes
|that, "no matter what you're going to do, there's going to be difference of opinion."
"We have had skeptics; we have also had supporters too."
Cain said he doesn't think the controversy has affected attendence at the museum; in fact, he says he has noticed more interest in World War I than in the past among younger generations.
He's not surprised that it is an American who is coming to Bishop's defense in cyber space and noted that Canadians often are reluctant to "toot their own horn." The museum board would like to have a greater presence on the web - it is now a part of the city's web site - lack the finances and other resources to keep one up, he said.
Created May 26, 1999
©1999 by Albert Lowe, All rights reserved.
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