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Raymond Collishaw
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Raymond Collishaw

Second only to Billy Bishop as Canada's greatest fighter pilot, and the top naval air ace of the First World War, Raymond Collishaw achieved fame as the leader of the most famous Allied fighter unit of the war — the Sopwith Triplane ‘Black Flight' .

Born at Nanaimo, British Columbia, on November 22, 1893, Raymond Collishaw spent his life looking for adventure. While still a teenager. he sailed as second mate aboard a tramp steamer, and in 1911 served with the famous British explorer R.F. Scott in the Antarctic.

At the outbreak of war, he transferred from the Fishery Protection Service to the British Royal Naval Service. The only way a young man could be accepted as a pilot at this early stage of the war was to train at his own expense and Collishaw learned to fly at the Curtiss Flying School in Toronto.

With the enemy falling. back in all areas, Collishaw was withdrawn from the Front and, like Bishop, sent home to plan the foundations for a Royal Canadian Air Force.< By the end of WWI, Collishaw s was credited with 60 aircraft shotdown. On October 1. 1918, at the age of 25 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

As if being a fighter ace was not enough adventure for
one lifetime, Raymond Collishaw returned after the
November Armistice to the RAE In July 1919, he was
given command of 47 Squadron and sent to Southern
Russia to aid the White General Denikin against the
Red Army.

Remaining in the RAP in the 1920s, the Canadian served aboard an aircraft carrier and later commanded the air station at Upper Heyford. By 1939, he was posted to Egypt, in charge of what would become the Desert Air Force. Although badly outnumbered by Italian and later German aircraft and considered a sideshow by politicians in London, the Desert Air Force under his leadership destroyed some 1,100 enemy aircraft. Made a Companion of the Order of the Bath, he was brought home in 1942 and promoted to Air Vice Marshal. His final command would be 14 Fighter Group in Scotland.

When he retired in 1943, Raymond Collishaw remained active in local civil defence organizations throughout the war. After it, he returned to his home province of British Columbia and became a partner in a mining operation.

He died on September 9 1976, having lived a life that few had or would ever experience, nearly long enough to celebrate his 93rd birthday

Excerpted from Peter Pigott's excellent book 'Flying Canucks - Famous Canadian Aviators' 1994 ,Hounslow Press