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Bill Greenaway, the fishing spy

Don MacLean
Don MacLean

Remembrance Day reminds us how we should all take time to remember the sacrifices made by veterans – sacrifices that allow us to live in a peaceful country like Canada. While wars and sport fishing are not often spoken of in the same breath there is one interesting connection, with a Nova Scotia twist, where fishing played a role in the outcome of World War II. I was reminded of that connection this fall when I visited the Margaree Salmon Museum.

The story revolves around Bill Greenaway who was born in 1896 in Minmyrray, County Down Ireland. He moved to England as a young man and soon made a name for himself as a casting champion. Casting for distance, and accuracy, was becoming a popular sport in Europe and Bill Greenaway was a natural at it. At one time he was British, European and World Amateur Bait Casting Champion. He fought in World War I where he received the Military Cross and was decorated with 23 shamrocks, each indicating an act of bravery.

Between the First and Second World Wars he served with Britain’s MI 5 as a military intelligence officer. Here is where his angling experience paid off as he was able to go to Germany as a representative of a British tackle company. In Germany his reputation as a champion caster preceded him and he was recruited to teach Herman Goring how to fly fish. The freedom to travel throughout Germany gave him the opportunity to observe Hitler’s military buildup. Using a camera hidden in the headlights of his car he was able to photograph ME 109 airplanes as well as other equipment.

Later, back in England, Winston Churchill would use these photographs to warn the government of the danger developing in Germany. When war broke out Bill Greenaway was in Paris. He was able to escape by buying a boat and fleeing, along with 90 refugees, across the channel.

After the war Bill Greenaway and his wife moved to Nova Scotia where he taught escape and survival skills to air crews at Greenwood Air Base. He remained an avid angler and fished throughout Nova Scotia and made yearly trips to the Margaree for Atlantic salmon. He wrote a book, The Way To Better Angling, which contains many references to his Nova Scotia fishing trips.

He was also an active member of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and a frequent contributor to the Atlantic Salmon Journal in the 1950s and 60s. He was well known throughout the angling world and when AJ McLane was looking for information on Nova Scotia for his Angling Encyclopedia he turned to Bill Greenaway who wrote the section on fishing this Province.

Bill Greenaway passed away in 1976 but his exploits live on in the Margaree Salmon Museum which has an excellent display of his fishing gear as well as information on his life. Included in the display is his tournament casting rod which he made himself from Tonkin cane back in1935.

Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.

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