This Week in History


Protector of the Air

For the week of Monday October 29, 2007

On November 3, 1894, William George Barker was born on a farm near Dauphin, Manitoba. Early on, he gained a reputation as an excellent marksman – a skill that would serve him well during the First World War.

William George Barker
William George Barker, 1918
© Swaine / Library and Archives Canada / PA-122516
When the First World War broke out, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) as a trooper for the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles Regiment. According to his attestation paper, Barker was a 20-year-old student when he joined. He was declared fit for service and sent to Brandon and Shilo, Manitoba, for basic training. In June 1915, his regiment reached England. Within three months the men were embroiled in battle for the Ypres salient (Belgium). Here, Barker remained until March 1916, when he left for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

Barker began his career with the RFC as a gunner-observer, providing artillery direction, photographic and visual reconnaissance. In November 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross for defending his aircraft from enemy fire while completing a difficult photographic mission during the Battle of the Somme.

In January 1917, Barker started training as a pilot in England. Deemed a “natural” by his instructor, he went “solo” after only one hour of instruction. As before, he was flying reconnaissance missions, only now he was responsible for piloting the plane while an observer conducted reconnaissance. His service was so exceptional that he was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross.

Barker in a Sopwith Camel aircraft of 28 Squadron, 1918
Barker in a Sopwith "Camel" aircraft of 28 Squadron, 1918
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-118321
Barker became a fighter pilot in September 1917, when he joined 28 Squadron of the RFC. In this capacity, Barker shot down roughly 50 enemy aircraft and accumulated five British decorations, including the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, a Croix-de-Guerre from the French Army Division stationed in Italy, and an Italian Silver Medal of Valor inscribed upon which was: “Protector of the Air.” He also received the Victoria Cross after his last, and possibly most dramatic, aerial fight.

Barker was seeking out enemy aircraft over the Western Front in his Sopwith “Snipe” single-seat fighter aircraft on October 27, 1918. Early that morning, he spotted a lone German plane. Barker attacked and destroyed it. Others immediately attacked. The fight ended with Barker crash-landing in Allied territory after receiving three injuries and shooting down three more planes. He was grounded due to his injuries for several months, causing him to miss the final two weeks of the war.

Among Canada’s most decorated Aces, Lieutenant-Colonel William George 'Billy' Barker, VC is a National Historic Person.

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