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Passing of a Great Canadian - Brereton Greenhous (former DHH)


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Ottawa academic raised Canadian hackles with a controversial book that
showed First World War ace Billy Bishop 'was a very brave man who was also a
very bold liar'
Saturday, May 14, 2005 Updated at 10:45 AM EDT
Special to The Globe and Mail
If Brereton "Ben" Greenhous loved a good rhubarb, as his friends and
colleagues attest, he got a big one three years ago when he was accused of
smearing a Canadian icon.
Trouble was, this was no half-baked, armchair history by a revisionist
quack, but a meticulously researched 232-page work by a professional
historian that concluded that Canadian First World War flying ace and
virtual household name Billy Bishop was a fraud, a calculating and "mighty"
liar, and wholly undeserving of the British Empire's highest military
decoration, the Victoria Cross.
Through 25 years as an historian at the directorate of history in the
Department of National Defence, Mr. Greenhous authored and co-authored many
popular and professional works, ranging from regimental histories,
chronicles of the battles at Dieppe and Vimy, Canada's contributions to the
Second World War, and official histories of Canada's air force.
But it was his 2002 book, The Making of Billy Bishop, for which he will be
chiefly remembered by many, and reviled by some. Expanding on a monograph in
the prestigious Canadian Historical Review titled "The Sad Case of Billy
Bishop, VC," which he had written more than a decade earlier, Mr. Greenhous
accused Mr. Bishop of exaggerations, fibs and flat-out lies, claiming that
only 27 of the storied airman's 72 victory claims withstood close scrutiny.
Mr. Bishop's "was still a very impressive performance," he wrote, "but
nothing like the great hero he was made out to be."

For many Canadians, the book was an outrageous reprise of the 1983 film by
Paul Cowan, The Kid Who Couldn't Miss, which sparked an inconclusive Senate
For Mr. Greenhous, ground zero was June 2, 1917. Mr. Bishop, a 23-year-old
captain in the Royal Flying Corps already credited with 22 aerial wins, took
off from northwest France at dawn in his single-seater Nieuport 17,
intending to strike a German aerodrome, solo. His most famous exploit had it
that he shot down three enemy aircraft, two just as they were taking off.
The audacious pilot sustained return fire, beat a hasty departure below four
enemy scout aircraft, and landed an hour later, his own plane in tatters.
Two months of investigations later, King George V presented Mr. Bishop with
the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace. He was one of just three Canadian
World War I pilots to be awarded the coveted VC, and it was the only one
bestowed in the absence of eyewitness testimony.
For Mr. Greenhous, there was one big problem: The mission never happened. He
cited, among many things, a lack of German records and eyewitnesses, Mr.
Bishop's own combat report on the raid (in which he was unable to identify
the location of the airfield) and the fact that the young pilot had a
checkered past. After all, he acknowledged in his autobiography that he had
cheated on his exams at the Royal Military College. Besides which, Mr.
Greenhous pointed out, that on the day Mr. Bishop claimed to have engaged
the Red Baron in a dogfight, Richthofen had just scored his 50th win and was
grounded pending personal kudos from the Kaiser.
As for the damage to Mr. Bishop's fighter, Mr. Greenhous strongly suggested
that the pilot touched down in France soon after taking off, and sprayed his
own plane with bullets to substantiate his story. Fellow historians, already
piqued by the other accusations, had a field day with this one, asking what
kind of sane pilot would deliberately weaken an already structurally flawed
aircraft, and noting that it would have taken two people to restart the
plane: one in the cockpit and the other to swing the propeller.
" 'I say, Pierre, would you mind coming over here and pulling my prop after
I have shot up my aircraft?' I don't think so," sniffed Lt.-Col. David
Bashow, a fighter pilot and assistant professor of history at the Royal
Military College who dismissed Mr. Greenhous's book in these pages as
"frankly mean-spirited, full of unsubstantiated conclusions and heavy with
Col. Bashow declined to comment for this article, conceding that while Mr.
Greenhous raised awareness of Mr. Bishop, there was a "fundamental
disconnect" between the two historians.
Through thick and thin, Mr. Greenhous stood his ground. "Mr. Bishop was a
very brave man who was also a very bold liar and he made up most of his
claims, including his famous VC raid," he said in a 2002 interview. "His
superiors were trying to build a hero in order to match [the German pilot]
Von Richthofen, the Red Baron, and so they encouraged him to exaggerate his
Headlines blazed, Canadians were aghast that a national treasure could be so
besmirched, and military historians scrambled to rebut. Veterans said they
felt like they'd been kicked in the gut. How convenient for Mr. Greenhous,
many of them snipped, that voices from the Great War, including those who
had flown with Mr. Bishop, had been all but silenced by mortality.
Mr. Greenhous, a large bear of a man who disarmed many with his gentle
manner and soft British accent, never shrank from the controversy, even amid
calls for his federally-funded head. "Ben loved to start a good fight and he
was never one to tolerate political correctness," chuckled Hugh Halliday, a
historian who co-wrote a short history of Canada's air force with Mr.
Greenhous. "As many of us do as we get older, we have an increasing
intolerance for bullshit. And Ben could sniff it out."
Mr. Greenhous was a "very sound" historian but was "off the mark in one
respect," Mr. Halliday conceded: He tried to prove a negative. Even so,
while "there is no proof" that Billy Bishop pulled off his raid, there is
also none that he didn't.
Mr. Greenhous came to history relatively late in life, having studied at
Carleton and Queen's universities in his late 30s. He arrived in Canada en
route to New Zealand but was waylaid in Ottawa after meeting his future
wife. He never left, save for two years of doctoral study in Dublin.
That was after a youth filled with travel and adventure. Too young to serve
in the Second World War, he was drafted into the British army in 1947 and
worked in an intelligence unit in Austria during the Cold War.
He made his way to the then-British colony of Malaya to manage a rubber
plantation, and later served as a peace officer and liaison between the
national police force and the British Army during the Malaya Emergency, a
12-year-long Communist insurgency.
On his return to Britain, Mr. Greenhous preferred an unconventional mode of
travel: He walked across Afghanistan with a caravan. Back home, he fished
for lobster, with little success.
In the end, most military historians remained unconvinced but some came to
an entente with Mr. Greenhous's theory about Billy Bishop: The lack of
information to prove Mr. Bishop's claims was the same lack of evidence that
supported Mr. Greenhous's thesis.
"We had a difference of opinion," said Steven Dieter, a graduate student at
the Royal Military College and former historian at the Billy Bishop Heritage
Museum in the flyer's native Owen Sound, Ont. "But that's part of being an
historian. You put it out there for public scrutiny, and he was unafraid to
do that."
For many, it was a shame it took such acrimony to focus attention on a
Canadian hero.
Brereton Greenhous was born June 12, 1929 in Bishop's Castle, Shropshire,
England, and died in Arnprior, Ont. on March 31, 2005 of liver cancer. He
was 75. He leaves his wife and one son, Carl, a professional hockey player
and coach in England.
* © Copyright 2005 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights

Brereton Greenhous
Wednesday, May 18, 2005 Updated at 10:44 AM EDT
Major John R. Grodzinski of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.,
writes about Brereton Greenhous, whose obituary appeared on May 14.
I first met him in 1990. "Ben" was in the staff lounge, holding what
appeared to be court. His presence dominated the room, yet the warmth of his
character was apparent in his jovial smile and wit. Noticing me as a
stranger to the place, he invited me over and asked what I was working on.
Having enjoyed several of his books, such interest by an accomplished
historian was overwhelming. Without hesitation, he immediately offered me
access to his records.
Whenever we met again, he always showed that same interest, offering sage
advice and lots of encouragement. To Ben, historians had to work hard,
unearthing facts and questioning every detail. He also made history fun,
perhaps best summed up in his assessment on whether the origins of an aspect
of a particular regiment's heritage was true or not. Ben concluded the story
to be based more in folklore than fact, writing that it was likely
"developed imperceptibly over a series of late night sessions in the mess --
conceived over a whisky and soda, born of a good claret, and weaned on port,
so to speak."
Readers are invited to send 250-word reminiscences about people who have
been the subject of a recent obituary (not a death notice) in The Globe.
Submissions about a friend, colleague or loved one may be sent to:
Obituaries Editor, The Globe and Mail, 444 Front St. W., Toronto, Ont., M5V
2S9. E-mail: obit@globeandmail.ca <mailto:eek:bit@globeandmail.ca>


Michael Dorosh

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Greenhous' book was roundly attacked in the pages of Canadian Military Journal, and I thought effectively debunked, though I am certainly not an expert on the Bishop case.

A widely published historian - I believe he did the RHLI history as well, which I enjoyed.


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A widely published historian - I believe he did the RHLI history as well, which I enjoyed.

And the official history of the RCAF (as DHH) which is a most read for all ranks and trades.