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Most decorated Canadian WWI hero, William G. Barker was a person of outstanding bravery and skill.

The son of Mrs. George Barker, of Rathwell, Manitoba, William George Barker left high school in Dauphin to enlist in the Canadian Mounted Rifles in December 1914. He spent eight months in the trenches before he received a commission in 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 a 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 (above), 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).

William G. Barker with German Fokker, a Canadian war trophy. 1919

Barker formed a business partnership, Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes Limited, with fellow Victoria Cross recipient and Canadian ace Billy Bishop which lasted for about three years. In 1922 he rejoined the fledgling Canadian Air Force in the rank of wing commander, serving as the Station Commander of Camp Borden (1922 to 1924).

Barker was appointed acting director of the RCAF in early 1924 and he graduated from RAF Staff College, Andover, in 1926. While waiting to start RAF Staff College Course No 4, Barker spent two weeks in Iraq with the RAF to learn more about the uses of air power. He formally reported on his findings to the Minister of National Defence, and informally to Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, of the US Air Service. One of his achievements in the RCAF was the introduction of parachutes. After leaving the RCAF he became the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club, and involved in tobacco growing farms in southwestern Ontario.

He continued to suffer from the physical effects of his 1918 gunshot wounds, his legs were permanently damaged and he suffered severely limited movement in his left arm. He also struggled with alcoholism in the last few years of his life. He died in 1930 when he lost control of his Fairchild KR-21 biplane trainer during a demonstration flight for the RCAF, at Air Station Rockcliffe, near Ottawa, Ontario. Barker, aged 35, was at the time the President and General Manager of Fairchild Aircraft in Montreal.

During the week of 8 January 1999, the Canadian Federal Government designated Barker a person of national historic significance. On 22 September 2011, a memorial at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto 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.”

Sources: theaerodrome.com, Wikipedia

More detailed William G. Barker biography on acepilots.com is highly recommended - along with even more detailed Wiki article.

Images: Wikimedia Commons, acepilots.com, vintagewings.ca

See also: Barker warplanes gallery

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