A real dog­fight

Canada's History - - EDITOR’S NOTE -

In 1966, The Royal Guards­men re­leased a nov­elty tune about, of all things, a Ger­man fly­ing ace from the Great War.

It was the age of gag songs; from “The Pur­ple Peo­ple Eater” to the “Mon­ster Mash,” daffy dit­ties were climb­ing the charts across North Amer­ica.

In “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” the coura­geous canine en­gages in an aerial duel with the das­tardly Red Baron. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more The Bloody Red Baron was rollin’ up the score Eighty men died tryin’ to end that spree Of the Bloody Red Baron of Ger­many.

The dog­fight ends with Snoopy vic­to­ri­ous and the Red Baron “spin­ning out of sight.”

The en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the tune speaks to the power of pro­pa­ganda to el­e­vate wartime heroes to mythic sta­tus.

Man­fred von Richthofen was one of the first pi­lots to rise to promi­nence dur­ing the Great War. The im­age of the dash­ing fly­ing ace in his blood-red Fokker Dr. 1 tri­plane cap­tured imag­i­na­tions on both sides of the con­flict.

Flight was still a nov­elty then (the first Cana­dian pow­ered flight had oc­curred in 1909), and mil­i­tary brain trusts pro­moted pi­lots’ ex­ploits as a way to buoy spir­its on the home front. In the United King­dom, Bri­tons ven­er­ated pilot Al­bert Ball. South Africans cheered the achieve­ments of An­drew Beauchamp-Proc­tor. And in Canada, Wil­liam “Billy” Bishop be­came a house­hold name. But the Red Baron, cred­ited with eighty vic­to­ries, eclipses them all.

To this day, con­tro­versy sur­rounds the fa­tal April 1918 flight that re­sulted in von Richthofen’s death.

Of­fi­cially, a Cana­dian, pilot Roy Brown, is cred­ited with the kill. But some his­to­ri­ans con­tend that the Red Baron was shot down by some­one on the ground.

In “Fi­nal Flight of the Red Baron,” au­thor Joel Ralph ex­am­ines the ev­i­dence — and shows that it’s not a clear-cut case.

Else­where in this is­sue, we re­call the con­tri­bu­tions of Great War con­scripts; we ex­plore the tragic legacy of child labour in Canada; and we re­mem­ber the dy­namic and dar­ing Que­bec singer Eva Gau­thier. Her story is es­pe­cially rel­e­vant con­sid­er­ing cur­rent-day con­cerns over cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion in the arts.

As for The Royal Guards­men, the band con­tin­ued to dwell in the mu­si­cal dog­house, so to speak, re­leas­ing at least four more Snoopy-themed songs — most re­cently, “Snoopy vs. Osama” in 2006.

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