Barker joined the Canadian Mounted Rifles in December 1914. He spent a year in the trenches before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1916. After starting out as a mechanic, he qualified as an observer in August 1916 and shot down his first enemy aircraft from the rear seat of a B.E.2d. Posted to England in November 1916, he soloed after 55 minutes of dual instruction and received his pilot's certificate in January 1917. A month later, he was back in France flying an R.E.8 until wounded by anti-aircraft fire on 7 August 1917. When he recovered, he served as a flight instructor before returning to combat duty in France. In November 1917, his squadron was reassigned to Italy where Barker's Sopwith Camel became the single most successful fighter aircraft of the war. Logging more than 379 hours of flight time, Barker shot down 46 enemy aircraft before Camel #B6313 was retired from service and dismantled on 2 October 1918. That month, he assumed command of the air combat school at Hounslow. Deciding he needed to brush up on air combat techniques for his new assignment, Barker joined 201 Squadron for ten days in France. During that time, he saw no action and was about to return to England when he decided to make one more excursion over the front. On 27 October 1918, alone and flying a Sopwith Snipe, he encountered sixty Fokker D.VIIs flying in stepped formation. In an epic battle with Jagdgeschwader 3, Barker shot down four enemy aircraft despite appalling wounds to both legs and his elbow. Fainting from pain and loss of blood, he managed to crash land his Snipe within the safety of the British lines. For his actions that day, Barker received the Victoria Cross (VC). Aside from his VC, and the other awards mentioned above, he also received Three Mentions-in-Dispatches.
The above is the "official" history of William George "Will" Barker. After the war, Will went into business with the other Canadian fighter VC winner, Billy Bishop. Unfortunately the venture failed. Barker then went into the new Royal Canadian Air Force, where he helped pioneer many innovations, including parachutes for all air crew members. He served in the RCAF from 1920 to 1924, and was Acting Director of the Royal Canadian Air Force on its official founding day, April 1, 1924. After leaving the RCAF, he then went into the tobacco business. And in January of 1930 became the Vice-President of Fairchild-Canada. He was killed in a flying accident on March 12, 1930 at Rockcliffe aerodrome at Ottawa.
Unfortunately, since his death, he's been virtually forgotten. His memory almost consigned to the ether, has been resurrected by a number of occurances. Not the least of which have been the efforts of Inky Mark, MP for Dauphin-Swan River federal electoral district in Manitoba, Canada. Through his efforts, first as mayor of Dauphin, now as Member of Parliment for his district, recognition of Will Barker is on the rise. The airport in Dauphin, Manitoba was renamed Lt.-Col. William Barker Field. There's been a book written about him in recent years, titled BARKER, VC, by Wayne Ralph published in 1997. A local committee has been established so that a tribute, likely a statue, can be erected in Dauphin, Barker's hometown. A documentary has been produced and will be shown on Tuesday, April 27th, 1999 on FLIGHTPATH on Discovery Channel in Canada, as a program entitled "First of the Few" will air across the country - it tells the story of William Barker, includes interviews with Wayne Ralph, his brother, his sister, and other family members, and shows the 1998 dedication of Barker Airport in Dauphin, Manitoba.
This program will also be shown on The Discovery Channel in the USA, and Great Britain sometime this year (1999). AND during the week of January 8, 1999, the Canadian Federal Government designated Barker a person of national historic significance.
Still, this took a long time coming. Some, including me, think it took too long to recognize Canada's most decorated hero.
"On the morning of the 27 October 1918, this officer observed an enemy two-seater over the Foret 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 that, 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. This combat, in which Major Barker destroyed four enemy machines (three of them in flames), brought his total successes 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." VC citation, London Gazette, 30 November 1918
©1999 Albert Lowe, All rights reserved.