Thursday, 22 September 2011

Toronto remembers Manitoba's Billy Barker, VC

Globe and Mail, Sept 21, 2011
(Click here for more Globe and Mail images)

Today in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery a monument will be unveiled to honour World War I veteran and fighting ace Lt. Col. William "Billy " Barker. It will, no doubt, be a fitting tribute to a man that Canada, including his home province of Manitoba, forgot.

Barker was born in Dauphin, Manitoba on November 3, 1894, his father a farmer and woodsman. The Barkers spent a few years living on a farm near Russell, (he is on the roll of Russell's very first boy scout troupe !) but in his early teens the family returned to Dauphin.

Circa 1918 (Source: Library and Archives Canada)

When he was 18 Barker signed up with the 32nd Light Horse militia, based in Roblin, Manitoba and in June 1915 was off to war with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. It wasn't until he was in Europe that Barker decided to be a 'fly boy' and in April 1917 he was assigned to the 4th division of the Royal Flying Corps.

In his flying career he was credited with the take down of 52 German planes and 10 balloons.

On October 27, 1918, he fought the battle that would earn him the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth's highest medal for bravery. Returning from a mission, Barker's plane was attacked. Wounded and nearly unconscious due to the pain and loss of blood, a formation of German planes surrounded him. he shot down four which allowed him enough time to cross back over the British lines where his plane crash landed. He was 24 years old. (To read Barker's full Victoria Cross citation.)

By the end of the war he had earned the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Bar, the Military Cross, Croix de Guerre (France), Silver Medal of Military Valour (Italy).
He returned as Canada's most decorated war veteran.

Thanks to media stories from around the Commonwealth Barker enjoyed time in the limelight upon his return. He wasn't able to transform that success and admiration into a steady post-war career, though. As with many returned soldiers he fought depression, immobilization and turned to alcohol to help numb the constant physical pain from his wartime injuries.

March 17, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press

Settling with his wife in Southern Ontario, Barker did some lecturing and co-founded a small charter airline with wartime colleague William "Billy" Bishop but it soon went bankrupt. He then did test flying for hire.

On a routine flight on March 12, 1930 his plane nose-dived into the ground at full speed, (some speculate that it may have been suicide).
Barker was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery where today's monument will be unveiled.

December 2, 1944. Winnipeg Tribune.

Barker was remembered during World War II and, ironically, used as an example for his fellow Canadians to sign up for the new war. His parents are seen above unveiling a portrait of the ace at the December 1944 graduation ceremony No. 7 Bomb and Gunnery school in Paulson, Manitoba.

Billy Barker Memorial

In 1999 Dauphin's airfield was renamed Lt. Col W.G. (Billy) Barker V.C. Airport. A commemorative plaque sits outside the front entrance.
In 2006 a statue was unveiled inside the terminal.

Barker and WW II Training Sites Dauphin Tourism
William George Barker, V.C. For Valour
The Flying Ace you've never heard of Toronto Star (includes pdf's from the Star's archives)


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff! Thank you for the enlightenment!

Erin said...

One of Dauphin's elementary school's is named after him as well.