In Billy Bishop Goes to War, analyze the play's attitudes towards heroism, patriotism, war, the military, and what Lady St. Helier calls " the Colonial mentality".
(Billy Bishop Goes to War by John Gray)
When medals are awarded to heroes during or after war, there is usually an element of uncertainty, regret and even pangs of guilt on the part of the recipient. The hype and congratulations sometimes hide the true nature of what really happened. Other times, men exaggerate their stories and, unless authenticated, doubt is cast on the validity of their claims.
Such is Billy Bishop's story in Billy Bishop Goes to War. Many of his missions were solo missions with no-one to prove or disprove his statements of fact. Canadians gallantly supported his stories and his controversial Victoria Cross. John Gray wanted to tell a Canadian war story and Billy Bishop, all but forgotten, fitted the requirement.
Billy Bishop is not the typical hero although he is clearly good at usurping the enemy. Although it takes him a while to find his true calling, the infantry and the cavalry are not for him; he cannot get in as a pilot, despite his enthusiasm.At least he is accepted as an "observer." By chance he meets Lady St Helier, an English politician, who ensures he get his first flying assignment as she recognizes his patriotism although she may think it's his love of England rather than his own Canada that lies at the center of it.
Still he does not excel and even crashes but it is his grit and determination that make him an unlikely hero as, having shot down his first German plane, he goes on to many solo exploits and becomes quite well-known. Such is his reputation - only one "kill" short of (the late) Albert Ball's record - that British authorities urge him to take leave. He still however shoots down more planes. Bishop has a job to do and there is no doubt about his dedication to his country and the military.He is the true patriot.
Many years later, when World War II is in full swing, Bishop fulfills his duty and delivers a motivational speech. He becomes somewhat reticent and even philosophical as he recalls: "We didn't think there was going to be another one back in 1918."