William George Barker VC DSO* MC**

b. 03/11/1894 Dauphin, Canada. d. 12/03/1930 Ottawa. Canada.

William George Barker (1894-1930) was born in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada on 3rd November 1894, and his childhood was spent in the great outdoors, giving in a wide experience of outdoor pursuits such as horse riding and marksmanship with both pistol and rifle. Educated mainly at Dauphin College, his family moved to Winnipeg just prior to the Great War, and when it did break out, William was keen to do his bit and enlisted. On the 1st November 1914 he signed up for the 1st Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles at No 106074 Private Barker W.G. and because of his knowledge of firearms was attached to the Machine Gun Section of the battalion.

WilliamGBarker VC DSO* MC**

In the spring of 1915 the Canadian Mounted Rifles sailed to England, and were based initially at Shorncliffe, Kent, and he received promotion to Corporal before the battalion crossed the Channel to join the fighting. Barker had applied for a transfer for the Royal Flying Corps, but this was rejected, but he didn’t give up, and his second application was accepted. In December 1915 he was attached to 9 Squadron RFC as a Corporal Observer.

For the next three months he flew many sorties in the cramped front cockpit of the unit’s BE2c’s, and in early 1916 claimed a Fokker monoplane as shot down after a close combat. Commissioned as Second Lieutenant on 2nd April 1916, though still not officially qualified to wear the observer’s half-wing brevet, he was posted to 7 Squadron on 7th April, and continued his probationary period of operational flying.

On 18th July, he joined 15 Squadron at Marieux, still flying the BE2c and three days later claimed a Roland two-seater as shot down near Miraumont. Shortly after, on 15th August, he claimed a second Roland near Achiet-le-Grand. His nine months of operational flying finally brought him official qualification as an observer on 27th August, and he immediately applied for training as a pilot. His various exploits and victories as an observer had been noted well by authority, and brought him the award of the Military Cross (gazetted 10th January 1917); while his bid to become a pilot was successful and on 16th November 1916 he returned to England and reported to Narborough, Norfolk to commence instruction. His long previous experience paid off, and after only 55 minutes of dual instruction, he was sent off on his first solo flight. Completing his training at Netheravon, he returned to France on 24th February 1917, as a Captain, and was posted back to 15 Squadron, based at Lealvillers, where he took command of C Flight.

He was in action within 24 hours of his return, and during the following months was rarely out of the skies. He was mostly flying low-level sorties, usually through heavy enemy fire, and ever inviting attack from German single-seat scouts roving the battlefields. On 23rd March, he skilfully outmanoeuvred a Fokker scout, and forced it down at Cambrai. On the 9th April, he showed quick thinking to range an artillery barrage onto a developing German assault on Australian positions, and for this and his previous actions he was awarded a Bar to his MC (gazetted 18th July). On 7th August, his BE was hit by groundfire, and a shard of shrapnel almost blinded him by slashing a furrow next to his right eye. He was then posted to England for a “rest” as an instructor.

Barker hated his new posting, and began to petition to get back to the front. On this being refused, he began to make a nuisance of himself by disobeying flying regulations and continually “stunting” in the various school aircraft. In the event, his insubordinate actions led to a choice between 56 Squadron in France, or a newly formed Sopwith Camel unit, 28 Squadron soon to go to France.

Preferring the more agile Camel as a fighting vehicle, Barker chose 28 Squadron, and on 2nd October was posted to Yatesbury, and took over command of A Flight. Six days later, they flew to France and settled at Droglandt Aerodrome. His first and the Squadron’s first victories came on 20th October, when in the middle of a dogfight, he shot the wings off an Albratross Scout, and then riddled a second over Roulers. Over the next week, he claimed four more victories, before on 28th October orders came of an imminent move to the Italian Front. By 14th November, they were reassembled in Milan, and by 28th were now based at Grossa airfield, north-west of Camisano. No time was wasted getting back into the sky, and several patrols were out the next day.

Barker remained on the Italian Front until early April 1918, claiming 15 more victories and the award of the DSO. Then, due to a disagreement with authority, he “exchanged” posts with 66 Squadron Flight Commander on 10th April, taking his personal Camel B6313 with him.

During service with 66 Squadron, he claimed a further 16 victories, and several more gallantry awards. On 24th April came a Second Bar to the MC (gazetted 16th September 1918); on 19th May the French presented him with a Croix de Guerre; and he was mentioned in despatches. On 3rd July, a new squadron was formed in Italy, 139, equipped with Bristol F2b Fighters, and on 14th July, with promotion to Major, he took up command of the squadron. A week later, came the award of a Bar to his DSO, and its citation officially credited him with 33 aircraft and 9 kite balloon victories. By September, he had claimed six more victories, and the Italians awarded him the Silver Medal for Military Valour. Finally, on 30th September, he was posted to Hounslow School of aerial flight tactics for some leave.

He was soon back, this time with 201 Squadron, now equipped with the new fighter, Sopwith Snipe, E8102 at La Targette airfield.

On 27th October 1918, he left La Targette in his Snipe returning it to Hounslow, when he crossed enemy lines at 21,000 feet above the Forêt de Mormal. He attacked an enemy Rumpler two-seater which broke up, its crew escaping by parachute; {the aircraft was of FAA 227, Observer Lt Oskar Wattenburg killed}. By his own admission, he was careless and was bounced by a formation of Fokker D.VIIs of Jagdgruppe 12, consisting of Jasta 24 and Jasta 44. In a descending battle against 15 or more enemy machines, Barker was wounded three times in the legs, then his left elbow was blown away, yet he managed to control his Snipe and shoot down or drive down three more enemy aircraft {Two German pilot casualties were Lt. Hinky of Jasta 44, wounded; and Vfw. Alfons Schymik of Jasta 24, killed}. The dogfight took place immediately above the lines of the Canadian Corps. Severely wounded and bleeding profusely, Barker force landed inside Allied lines, his life being saved by the men of an RAF Kite Balloon Section, who transported him to a field dressing station.

He was taken to No 8 General Hospital, Rouen, where he was unconscious for several days. Surgeons saved his left arm, rather than amputate, and he revived, to be given the news that he was to be awarded the VC. In a short note to the commander of 201 Squadron on 9th November, Barker wrote “By Jove, I was a foolish boy, but anyhow I taught them a lesson….”

His VC was officially gazetted on 30th November 1918, and on 1st March 1919 Barker, with left arm still in a sling, and hobbling on a walking stick, was invested with his many decorations by King George V at Buckingham Palace. The idea of a peacetime career in the RAF did not appeal to him, so on 29th April 1919 he resigned his commission and returned to Canada; there to seek suitable business employment. Unable at first to settle into civilian life, he partnered another Canadian air VC, “Billy” Bishop, in a charter aircraft scheme, but the airborne antics of the two wild Canadians soon caused the business to collapse. In 1920, Barker joined the Canadian Air Force as a Wing Commander and was sent to England as Liaison Officer at the Air Ministry; and in the following year married Jean Kilbourn Smith. Two years later he was appointed aide-de-camp to King George V, but had already decided peacetime Service life was not his vocation. Leaving the CAF in 1924, he started in a tobacco business, until a bout of pneumonia in 1929 prostrated him for several months, and he was forced to give it up.

An opportunity to return to his main delight, aviation, came when in January 1930 he was appointed Vice-President of the new Fairchild Aviation Corporation of Canada, with company HQ at Montreal. Not content with just a desk job, he preferred to personally test the new designs, and on 12th March 1930 he took off from Rockcliffe, Ottawa in a new Fairchild two-seater aircraft to give an air demonstration of its capabilities. He had hardly become airborne when the machine stalled viciously and crashed at full power into the river. Rescuers who rushed to the scene found Barker dead in the cockpit. Three days later, he was laid to rest in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, and a witness stated there was a queue five miles long of people anxious to pay their last respects to the lion-hearted Canadian.

Barker’s medal group comprising of VC, DSO and Bar, MC and Two Bars, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, Medal of Military Valour (Silver) (Italy) and French Croix de Guerre are held by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.






Canadian War Museum – for photos of his medal group.