On arrival in Europe, many Canadians joined the Royal Flying Corps. The airmen's key role at the start of the conflict was aerial reconnaissance. Pilots monitored army movements and used cameras to discover enemy positions, critical for shelling. Given the importance of the information they were relaying to troops on the ground, the pilots were targeted by solo scout planes. Before the machine gun made its appearance, an artilleryman accompanied the pilot and used a pistol and carbine to shoot over the propeller. Cables and grappling hooks were even used to catch planes in full flight and steel spears launched at the wings.
Dutch aircraft builder Anthony Fokker revolutionized fighter aviation when he invented a system to synchronize the propeller with a machine gun mounted on the hood of the aircraft. The Germans were the first to make use of the system, wreaking havoc among the RFC. The Allies followed close behind and by 1916, the war of the flying aces had begun.
Photo: William G. Barker, Canadian ace with 50 victories and Victoria Cross recipient.