William George "Billy" Barker

William George Barker, 1918

William George "Billy" Barker (1894-1930), the most decorated serviceman in the history of Canada and the British Empire, was one of Canada's most renowned First World War heroes. He grew up riding horses and hunting on a farm near Dauphin, Manitoba. After watching airplanes at a local exhibition, he became fascinated with the idea of becoming a pilot. He enlisted with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles on December 1, 1914, and served as a machine-gunner in France until early 1916, when he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and qualified as a pilot in early 1917.

During his career with the RFC, Barker was credited with fifty-three aerial victories. He was awarded the Military Cross in the concluding stages of the Battle of the Somme for spotting German troops massing for a counter-attack and for calling down an artillery attack that broke up the 4000-strong force. On October 27, 1918, Barker was attached to 201 Squadron and flying a solo excursion over the Forêt de Mormal when he encountered a formation of Fokker D.VIIs from Jagdgruppe 12. In the battle that ensued, despite being wounded three times in the legs and having most of one elbow shot away, Barker repelled the Germans and shot down four of their aircraft before crash-landing inside Allied lines. Severely wounded, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

After the war, Barker and William Avery "Billy" Bishop, another Canadian flying hero, founded an airline in Toronto. In 1924 Barker was appointed a senior officer in the fledgling Canadian Air Force. He subsequently became the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Barker was killed on March 12, 1930, when the plane he was piloting during a flight exhibition crashed near Ottawa.

Service Record Details

Attestation Paper 1

Date of Birth: November 3, 1894

Date of Attestation: December 1, 1914

Age at Enlistment: 20 years

Height: 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches

Weight: Not indicated

Description: Fair complexion, grey eyes, light brown hair. Wesleyan.

Home Address: Not indicated

Trade: Student at collegiate

Married: No

Next of Kin: Father, G.W.J. Barker, living in Dauphin, Manitoba.

Theatre of War: England, France, Italy

Casualties:

  • July 16, 1919 – A case history sheet indicates that Barker is being treated for a gunshot wound to his left elbow. Part of his humerus (a bone running from the shoulder to the elbow) is shot away. The muscles in his arm and hand have atrophied and his forearm is weak. (Page 54)

Interesting Details from the Service Record:

Attestation Paper 2
 
  • September 22, 1915 – He embarks for France. (Page 49)
  • April 14, 1916 – He transfers to the No. 4 Squadron of the RFC to train as an observer. (Page 27)
  • 1917 to 1918 – There is a list of his military honours and awards "For Services with the Royal Air Force." (Page 9)
  • January 6, 1918 – In a letter reporting on Barker’s recovery from his injuries, a Captain Johnston writes: "His chief regret is that he will be unable to play Hockey, Baseball or Water Polo again, on account of his left arm." (Page 19)
  • November 27, 1918 – A Major Bristol writes to a Colonel Hamilton requesting an update on Barker’s recovery: "Will you please have someone go round and see major W.G. Barker, D.S.O., R.A.F., the Canadian Aviator whom you will remember reading about not long ago as having fought sixty Huns." The note goes on to say that the newspapers and his friends are anxious to know about his wounds and the likelihood of his recovery. (Pages 39–43)
  • March 6, 1920 – Barker writes a letter with his company name, Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes Limited, in the letterhead, to the pay office of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada in Ottawa, seeking an increase to his pension. (Page 23)
  • March 14, 1930 – There is a detailed record of his service that includes award citations from The London Gazette. (Pages 11-12)
  • Undated – A newspaper clipping from The Morning Post carries the headline "The War in the Air. A Record Combat. Major Barker’s Fight with Sixty Huns." (Page 13)
  • Undated – There are newspaper clippings about his wartime actions from The London Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail. (Page 16)
  • Undated – There is a copy of a typed four-page document titled "Career of Wing Commander Barker." No reference is indicated. (Pages 80–83)
  • Undated – A three-page documents quotes articles about Barker from The London Gazette. (Pages 86–88

The London Gazette

The London Gazette—Supplement 31042, Page 14203, November 30, 1918
"Capt. (A./Major) William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C., No. 201 Sqn., R.A. Force.

"On the morning of the 27th October, 1918, this officer observed an enemy two-seater over the Fôret 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 endeavoured 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.

"This combat, in which Major Barker destroyed four enemy machines (three of them in flames), brought his total successes up to fifty enemy machines destroyed, and is a notable example of the exceptional bravery and disregard of danger which this very gallant officer has always displayed throughout his distinguished career.

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."

Military Medals, Honours and Awards

Census Records

No records found

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