(Bio History) William George Barker

(Bio History) William George Barker - Histories of Manitoba
William George Barker
B: Dauphin, MB, 1895 D: Ottawa, Mar 12, 1930

Billy Barker was a childhood hero of mine and anyone interested in the history of Canadian aviation and aerial warfare knows who he is.
But the amazing story of Col. William George Barker, including the incredible dogfight two weeks before the end of the First World War that earned him the Victoria Cross, has faded to obscurity since his death in 1930. He was, and remains, the most decorated war hero in Canada and the British Commonwealth.
That will change on Thursday with the unveiling of a monument at the Toronto cemetery where the former Manitoba farm boy was interred in his wealthy wife's family crypt after the biggest funeral in the city's history up to that time.
Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley and three of Barker's grandsons are to be on hand to dedicate the memorial that features a plaque with a quote from Canada's top air ace William (Billy) Bishop calling his friend "the deadliest air fighter who ever lived."
"If he died at the end of World War I, he might have been (remembered as) a hero in a different way," Onley told the Toronto Star. "If he had lived longer, as Billy Bishop did, maybe he would have been a squadron commander in World War II."
Toronto-based pollster John Wright led the lobbying effort for the new memorial after reading about Barker and discovering there was nothing at Mount Pleasant Cemetery to mark his resting place. His crypt carries his wife's family name, Smith.
Bishop, who went on to help run the Commonwealth Air Training Plan in the Second World War, eclipsed Barker in the public mind thanks to books, films and plays. But Bishop and his contemporaries thought Barker was the more complete aerial warrior.
"It's not so much that Barker faded to insignificance," Wayne Ralph, who wrote the definitive biography of Barker, told Postmedia News. "It's just that Bishop became a supernova."
Barker, who grew up on a farm near Dauphin, Man., was a crack shot. He enlisted in a cavalry regiment but once in the trenches of France was inspired by the planes he saw duelling overhead. He joined the Royal Flying Corps. in 1916 as a mechanic and observer, eventually qualifying as a pilot.
Flying Sop with Camels in the Italian campaign, Barker was a pioneer of ground-attack tactics and a deadly aerial fighter, racking up 46 kills. He was a specialist in attacking well-protected observation balloons.
Unlike the post-war stereotypes about WWI's knights of the air, Barker was notoriously unsentimental about combat.
One his most famous exploits was a Christmas Day attack on a German aerodrome, where he and his wingman destroyed a hangar and several planes before Barker dropped a card wishing his enemies a "Happy Christmas."
Novelist Ernest Hemingway, who was in Italy at the time, later fictionalized the event in his story The Snows of Kilimanjaro. A character named Barker was called "a bloody murderous bastard."
Barker's most famous battle came when he was supposed to be serving as an flying instructor in England. He wangled a trip to the front and was testing a Sopwith Snipe in France when he flew alone over German lines and shot down a two-seater observation plane. Barker in turned was jumped by fighters in a battle that eventually involved up to 60 German planes.
Despite being wounded several times, including a shattered elbow, Barker managed to shoot down three more enemy planes before crash-landing back over Allied lines. The fight, witnessed by thousands of Canadian soldiers, earned him the Victoria Cross. Barker finished the war with 50 aerial victories, though some accounts give him more.
Barker struggled after the war. His serious wounds caused him pain that he tried to douse with alcohol. He was a founding director of the Royal Canadian Air Force and a consultant for the RAF, who sent him to Iraq to evaluate efforts to suppress the Arab insurgency through aerial bombing.
His cautionary report makes interesting reading today. He and Bishop were partners in an air transport service and Barker became the Canadian president for the Fairchild aircraft company.
Barker, 35, was at the controls of a Fairchild biplane on a demonstration flight near Ottawa when the plane stalled and crashed, March 12, 1930.
(courtesy: National Archives of Canada Photo)
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