WWI Flying Ace Billy Barker

by J-Mirabelli

A memorial to William George Barker was erected on September 22, 2011 at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, Canada where the war hero is buried.

Born in Dauphne, Manitoba, “Will” Barker grew up riding horses, shooting, and working on his father’s farm and sawmill. He was an exceptional shot, and was particularly good at shooting on the move, even while on horseback.

In December 1914, soon after the outbreak of the First World War, Barker enlisted in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. Barker was a Colt machine gunner with the Machine Gun Section of the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles until early March 1916, when he transferred as a probationary observer, flying in the BE-2 airplane. On October 20, 1917, Billy Barker flew his first combat patrol in a Sopwith Camel. This began his accomplished flying ace career.

One of his most successful, and controversial raids, fictionalized by Ernest Hemingway in the short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, was on December 25, 1917. Catching the Germans off guard, he and Lt. Harold Hudson, his wingman, shot up the airfield of Fliegerabteilung, setting fire to one hangar and damaging four German aircraft before dropping a placard wishing their opponents a “Happy Christmas.”

Having flown more than 900 combat hours in two and one half years, Barker was transferred back to the UK in September, 1918 to command the fighter training school.

He is officially credited with one captured, two (and seven shared) balloons destroyed, 33 (and two shared) aircraft destroyed, and five aircraft “out of control;” the highest “destroyed” ratio for any RAF, RFC or RNAS pilot during the WWI conflict.

Barker returned to Canada in May, 1919 with the Victoria Cross, the distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Military Cross and two Bars, two Italian Solver Medals for Military Valor, and the French Croix de guerre. Only two other servicemen in the history of the Commonwealth or Empire have received as many British medals for gallantry.

After WWI, Barker formed a business partnership, Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes Limited, with fellow Victoria Cross recipient Billy Bishop, which lasted for about three years. In 1922, he rejoined the fledgling Canadian Air Force, serving as the Station Commander of Camp Borden until 1924.

He died on March 12, 1930. His funeral was the largest national state event in Toronto, Canada’s history, and was attended by an honor guard of 2,000 soldiers. The cortege stretched for more than a mile and a half, and included the Chief of the General Staff and his senior officers, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Mayor of Toronto, three federal government cabinet ministers, and six other Victoria Cross recipients. An honor guard was also provided by the United States Army. Some 50,000 spectators lined the streets of Toronto en route to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, where Barker was interred in his wife’s family crypt in the Mausoleum.

Barker’s only daughter, Jean Antoinette (Barker) Mackenzie, died in July, 2007.

On September 22, 2011, a memorial at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, Canada, was unveiled to mark William Barker as the “most decorated war hero in the history of Canada, the British Empire, and the Commonwealth of Nations.”

Read more:

Billy Barker WWI Canadian Ace | Acepilots

William George Baker | Wikipedia

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