William George "Billy" Barker

RFC Lt. Colonel - VC, DSO & Bar, MC & 2 Bars, CdeG [Fr] Silver Medal for Valor [Italy]

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Billy Barker

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Born on November 3, 1894 in Dauphin, Manitoba

KiFA - March 12, 1931 at CFB Rockcliffe, Ottawa



WILLIAM GEORGE BARKER not only shot down 50 enemy planes in the first Great War but performed one day's duty so valorously that the British Air Ministry's citation with the award of the Victoria Cross was shorn of most of the customary formality of such statements:
"On the morning of the 27th October, 1918, this officer observed an enemy two-seater over the Forest de Mormal. He attacked this machine and after a short burst, it broke up in the air. At the same time, a Fokker biplane attacked him and he was wounded in the right thigh, but managed, despite this, to shoot down the enemy aeroplane in flames. He then found himself in the middle of a large formation of Fokkers, who attacked him from all directions, and was again severely wounded in the left thigh, but succeeded in driving down two of the enemy in a spin.
"He lost consciousness after this and his machine fell out of control. On recovery, he found himself being again attacked heavily by a large formation, and singling out one machine he deliberately charged and drove it down in flames.
"During this fight his left elbow was shattered and he again fainted, and on regaining consciousness he found himself still being attacked, but, notwithstanding that he was now severely wounded in both legs and his left arm shattered, he dived on the nearest machine and shot it down in flames.
"Being greatly exhausted, he dived out of the fight to regain our lines, but was met by another formation, which attacked and endeavored to cut him off, but after a hard fight, he succeeded in breaking up this formation and reached our lines, where he crashed on landing.
"Major Barker was awarded the Military Cross on 10th January, 1917; first Bar on 18th July, 1917; the Distinguished Service Order on 18th February, 1918; second Bar to Military Cross on 16th September, 1918 and Bar to Distinguished Service Order on 2nd November, 1918."
William George Barker was born at Dauphin, Manitoba, November 3rd, 1894, and from his earliest days showed an aptitude for firearms both as a game hunter and as an active member of rifle associations at Dauphin and later at Winnipeg. Life on the farmlands of the prairie seemed to have instilled in him a rugged confidence that remained with him through life.
His name first appeared in military records shortly after the outbreak of war in 1914 as No. 106074, Private Barker, with his enlistment in the 1st Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles. Proceeding to England for training he crossed to France with his battalion in September, 1915.
The mud and monotony of trench life soon turned his thoughts skyward and early 1916 found him transferred to the 9th Air Squadron operating on the Somme, as a fledgling observer with the rank of Corporal. On April 2nd, 1916, he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps with the rank of Second-Lieutenant.
A long period on the Somme front followed, during which Barker achieved a brilliant reputation on reconnaissance, artillery observation, photographic and bombing work.
In January 1917 Barker qualified as a pilot and not long afterwards was given command of a Flight. A captaincy followed shortly after but his ability marked him as a good man to be trained as an instructor, and in September he was sent back to England. But life was dull there to such a man and he asked to get back into action.
He was in France for only three weeks, however, before the 28th Squadron, whose A flight he commanded, was sent to Italy in the Allied reinforcement of that beleaguered front. Austrian planes had gained command of the Italian sky, but Barker and his colleagues promptly set out to alter this situation. Barker's personal record jumped from 5 to 50 planes destroyed in the air thanks largely to this activity in Italy.
Barker seemed to fly with a zest and affection for the task as though it were a sport. Christmas morning in 1917, for instance, found him making an unofficial flight in pursuit of an Austrian balloon that he had seen while leaving his mess hut. Barker wasn't supposed to be in the air, but then neither was that Austrian balloon; so he just drove over to the flying field and went up to do battle, accompanied by two other machines. The balloon was quickly destroyed, but it was too fine a morning to return home so they carried on into enemy territory and raided an aerodrome, setting fire to hangars and killing a number of troops. This and other engagements about this time gained him the Distinguished Service Order and only two months later he was awarded a second bar to the Military Cross "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty" and more particularly for attacking eight and then seven hostile planes, shooting down two the first time and one the second.
In April, Barker led a daring, daylight raid on the Austrian Army Headquarters at San Vito which took the enemy by surprise. In May, Barker pulled off a spy-dropping adventure with the aid of a specially built plane and parachute. He was assisted in this job by Captain Wedgwood Benn who was then adjutant of Barker's squadron and has since become well known in British public life. The high degree of skill required in carrying out this maneuver was recognized by the King of Italy who conferred on Barker the silver medal for valor — highest Italian award for any soldiers but her own. It took its place alongside the Croix de Guerre which Barker had previously won from France for services in protecting French flyers from an enemy attack.
In June, Barker met the man he had been waiting for — Linke, the Austrian ace who had destroyed so many Allied planes. Linke had always flown in groups and rarely made himself a possible target. But the day came when Barker found Linke's checkered plane in the van of an opposing squadron and the fight was on. Linke could fly with the skill of Barker, but the latter found his enemy was not so good a shot. The two planes maneuvered and exchanged shots for some time before Linke decided he had had enough and made a fierce dive for his own aerodrome. But Barker, after him with all speed, swooped down in a roaring rush that caught the Austrian only just before he landed and enabled the Canadian to pour a stream of bullets that finished this formidable flier's distinguished record.
Another Italian medal for valor came to Barker for his brilliant defensive work in the hard fighting along the Piave river during the desperate offensive campaign of the enemy. Barker's second Italian medal had inscribed on it "Protector of the Air" and was pinned on his breast by the King of Italy himself.
On July 20, Barker was awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order, bur it was a few days later that there happened the incident for which he gained most popular renown. Austrian planes were doing their work in fits and starts, traveling in search of stray Allied planes but avoiding any pitched battles. Barker and his companions, anxious for a show-down, therefore prepared and distributed over enemy aerodromes thousands, of copies of this formal challenge:
Major W. G. Barker, D.S.O., M.C., and the Officers under his command present their compliments to:—
Captain Brumowsky, Rither Von Fiala, Captain Havratil and the Pilots under their command and request the pleasure and honor of meeting in the air. In order to save Captain Brumowsky, Rither Von Fiala and Captain Havratil and gentlemen of his party the inconvenience of searching for them, Major Barker and his Officers will bomb GODEGA aerodrome at 10 a.m. daily, weather permitting, for the ensuing fortnight.
Godega was the largest and most important of the enemy's aerodromes. Thus, the selection of this site for battle was the last word in open challenge. Barker and his men of the 139th Squadron — an "Imperial" unit of which he had been given command — appeared at Godega day after day — but the enemy fought shy of open battle and nothing came of the 139th's "calling card."
Barker left Italy in September to take command of an instructional school for fighting pilots at Hounslow. But on arrival in England, he convinced the Air Ministry he should be allowed to do two weeks fighting in France to acquaint himself with the latest tactics before he began instructional work. This he did, and with apparent relish. But the time was shortly up and on October 27, he set out again for England. But this was to be no ordinary home-going flight. It was the flight that brought him the Victoria Cross and provoked the glowing citation of the Air Ministry quoted at the beginning of this sketch.
Barker was in convalescence in France until January, 1919, and then was moved to England to continue his recovery from what has been regarded as one of the most sensational fights in air history. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel just four years after being Private Barker, No. 106,074 1st C.M.R.
In 1920, Barker joined the Canadian Air Force and was sent to England as Liaison Officer at the Air Ministry. From 1924 to 1929 he lived near Simcoe, Ont., actively interested in the tobacco industry of Norfolk County. In 1930, however, he returned to aviation and became president of the Fairchild Aviation Corporation of Canada.
But fate worked one of its strangest and cruelest blows when on March 12, 1931, he crashed to death over Rockcliffe Aerodrome near Ottawa while making a trial flight just prior to demonstrating a new type of two-seater plane for the Civil Aviation branch of the Department of National Defence. A stalled engine had done what the combined skill and intent of thousands of enemy pilots in many skies had hitherto been unable to accomplish. His funeral in Toronto was a national tribute to a "protector of the air" of international renown.


Painting & text from Clyde Scollan's booklet - Canada's Air Heritage

Featured in the booklet are

Billy Barker  Billy Bishop  Ray Collishaw  Alan McLeod


Bishop & Barker
Billy Bishop & Billy Barker




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