A real dogfight
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.