Canada’s Fighting Airmen
Barker's fight with sixty German machines ranks as one of the War’s most amazing exploits
MAJOR GEORGE A. DREW
NINE : BARKER, HERO OF A HOMERIC COMBAT
THE last two weeks of June, 1918, were busy days for the British squadrons in Italy. The great Austrian attack, which commenced on June 15, was pressed with unremitting vigor against the Montello Plateau until the end of the month, and Barker and his companions were in the air during most of the daylight hours, bombing aerodromes, sweeping down to attack troops on the ground, and fighting Austrian machines wherever they met.
The records of the 14th Wing contain sequent references to Barker’s activities. In short, abrupt sentences they tell a story of strenuous fighting, of which the imagination easily completes the picture.
“On June 21st, Captain Barker, Lieutenants Birks and Apps, observing a patrol of eight D Ill’s taking off from Motta Aerodrome, pursued it and each pilot destroyed one enemy aircraft.”
This is merely an example of many similar statements contained in the reports. There was no necessity for comment. The mere fact that the enemy numbered eight to their three and were far behind their own lines was not important. Three British machines met the enemy over their own aerodrome “and each pilot destroyed one enemy aircraft.”
The Hedge-Hopping Plague
PRISONERS’ statements and captured documents revealed the fact that the morale of the Austrian pilots was suffering badly from the aggressive tactics of the British squadrons. Austrian airmen who were taken prisoners spoke with surprising freedom of their plight. One pilot who was shot down in the last week in June made the following statement: “The British and Italian Scouts have been inflicting terrible losses on us. Not a day passes without the funerals of two or three of our comrades. The other day we buried the best pilot of the Banfield squadron. (This was Linke whom Barker had killed). And recently the famous Captain Brumowsky, commanding the 41st Company of Scouts, was brought down. His life was saved only by a miracle. Our aviation has never passed through a more trying period.”
Nor was the effect of the British squadrons’ efforts confined to the Austrian airmen. A captured document showed the result of the low-flying attacks on columns of troops on the ground. It was issued in the form of instructions, but the opening paragraphs frankly admitted the result of the British tactics.
“Supreme Command of the Austro-Hungarian Army. No. 99652
Rules for defense against low-flying aeroplanes. Written and verbal reports unanimously establish that the moral effect of low-flying machines on our troops is serious.
Low-flying enemy machines can only be fought with great difficulty by our own aviators and by our anti-aircraft guns.
Fighting machines usually appear when unexpected, and it is, therefore, almost impossible to seek efficacious refuge.
Troops should not be afraid of low-flying enemy machines, and should fight them. Every victorious result and every machine brought down will increase the confidence of the troops and their idea of defense, and will also diminish any panic, while the hostile machines will lose their enthusiasm.
In order to accustom the troops to the fact of the machine flying closely above them, our machines should frequently practise low-flying whenever possible and rewards should be given to the men for bringing down a hostile machine. This prize money should be paid immediately.
Everybody should be convinced that our own aviators, even when far superior in number to enemy machines, can never close the sky. Hence the best defense against such machines appearing unexpectedly is machine-gun fire and rifle fire, which are the only means to rid us of this plague.”
This naive document revealed the unhappy state of mind of the Austrian staff over the effect of “hedgehopping” expeditions of the British and Italian Scouts. Barker had been largely responsible for the introduction of these tactics which he and his companions had successfully employed months before in France.
The Wing reports show what a “plague” the British machines had really been in this particular period. In nine days up to June 24, they had fired 44,815 rounds of ammunition and dropped 22,364 lbs. of bombs on troops and transports.
Austrian prisoners admitted that during two weeks they had lost nearly 150 machines out of a little more than 200 actively engaged. Among Austrian airmen this fortnight came to be known as “The Black Weeks.”
Gasoline Can Practice
IN JULY the weather improved and was generally good throughout the month; which permitted even greater activity over the enemy lines. The daily reports of the 14th Wing show that it was not uncommon for the British squadrons to make as many as sixty or seventy offensive patrols far back over enemy territory during a single day. A typical entry shows the variety and extent of their work.
“July 13—Weather fair. Visibility good. Offensive patrols, seventy-two. Artillery patrols, eight, during which we destroyed four enemy machines. Corps work included three successful shoots and two photographic flights. Seventy-nine photographs were taken and five reconnaissances were carried out, one being in co-operation with the Italians.”
Nor was this bald statement the whole story of the day’s work. The report of the 66th Squadron shows that three other enemy machines had been destroyed in addition to those brought down during the artillery patrol.
“On July 13, a special offensive patrol consisting of Captain Barker and Lieutenant Apps observed eight enemy aircraft at 15,000 feet over Moriago. They tried to surprise them but failed, and all the enemy aircraft at once dived toward Godega Aerodrome. Captain Barker got on the tail of one Berg Scout and fired 250 rounds into it and broke it in pieces at 4,000 feet between Conegliano and Godega. Lieutenant Apps meanwhile followed a Dill down to 5,000 feet when it turned over and also broke up in the air. Captain Barker then attacked another Dill which was trying to get on Lieutenant Apps’ tail. This enemy aircraft passed within forty yards of him, affording a chance of a fine burst, and enabling him also to get on its tail and fire a further 100 rounds. The enemy aircraft then stalled and was seen by Lieutenant Apps to crash one mile south of Godega Aerodrome.”
The reports of this period record a surprising number of Austrian machines breaking up in the air. The answer is to be found to a great extent in the constant shooting practice which Barker established in his squadron. In addition to the usual “petit Bosche” as the ordinary ground target was called, Barker had started a practice of shooting at a gasoline can from the air. This can, with a little gasoline in it, would ignite if the tracers passed through and thus give indisputable evidence of having been hit. It was a small target for the fast scouts and gave good shooting practice as well as excellent training in handling the machines, for there was little room left to flatten out from their dive if they came low enough to hit the target. Barker, like Bishop, by his skill in shooting was proving the value of patient practice at ground targets.
The work of the one flight of Bristol Fighters attached to the 66th had been so good that for some time the desirability of having a complete squadron of this type had been apparent. The request for a new squadron was granted, and on July 14 the new Bristols arrived and the 139th Squadron was organized with Barker in command. He was promoted to the rank of major on the same day. A most unusual concession was made to Barker in his new squadron. He preferred the single-seater Sopwith Camel and asked to be permitted to lead the Bristols in his old machine. Doubtless due to the fact that he stood head and shoulders above any other British, French or Italian pilot in Italy at the time, his request was granted. He sometimes flew a Bristol on reconnaissance patrols but most of the time led the squadron in his Camel.
Fighting Against Heavy Odds
THE 139th was a real Imperial unit. Barker the Squadron Commander was a Canadian and the three Flight Commanders came from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It did not take them long to get into action. On July 15 an offensive patrol of three machines met eight of the enemy over Mattarello and destroyed two of them. Then on July 18 Barker and one of his Bristol two-seaters, in co-operation with a patrol from his old squadron the 66th, made what might be called a perfect score on five of the enemy.
' The Wing report for the day contains the following brief account of the fight.
“About 8 a.m., two Austrian reconnaissance machines and three scouts were notified to Wing Headquarters as working over our lines. On their return they were attacked by Scouts and Bristol Fighters. Four were destroyed, including both reconnaissance machines, and the remaining enemy aircraft were shot down by our anti-aircraft.”
This unembellished record furnished the best possible reason why the Austrian airmen did not enjoy working over the British lines.
The report of the 139th Squadron tells of Barker’s part in this very successful fight.
“Major Barker on a Camel, with Lieutenants Simon and Smith on a Bristol Fighter, during an offensive patrol ran into two twoseaters and three scouts over Asiago. Major Barker got on the tail of an L.V.G., driving it down from 15,000 to 6,000 feet. It fell south of Gallio, bursting into flames on the ground. Lieutenant Simon and his observer, although their engine cut out during a dive, stayed long enough to see the machine burning on the ground. The remaining enemy aircraft were then attacked by Camels of 66 Squadron.” ON AUGUST 8, the day on which the great British offensive opened in France with the Canadian Corps as the spearhead of the attack, Barker carried out a particularly daring daylight bombing raid on the aerodrome at Pergine, about thirty miles up the Brenta Valley. As the four Bristol Fighters of the patrol approached Pergine, they were surprised to see a number of Austrian machines rise to meet them, for they had become accustomed recently to seeing the Austrians immediately drive for their aerodromes. The enemy was in a fighting mood, however, and they soon met. After a short fight two of the enemy went down in flames almost into their own aerodrome and the rest flew away, while Barker and his companions dropped their bombs on the hangars before turning for home without any casualties.
Apart from the dramatic story which they tell, perhaps the most interesting feature of these reports is the regularity with which they record, without any suggestion of boasting, that two or three British machines attacked much larger numbers of the enemy. In this particular case there were three Austrian Scouts in the formation opposed to Barker and the one Bristol, so that every advantage was with the enemy.
Only two days later Barker had another double victory.
The squadron report for the day tells us that
“On July 20th, Major Barker on a Camel and Lieutenant Curtis with Sergeant Frow and Lieutenants Wood and Milburn on Bristols found Six D Ill’s flying over Motta Aerodrome at 15,000 feet. Three Italian Scouts appeared and the enemy aircraft began at once to dive for their aerodrome. Major Barker’s formation dived with them and were apparently mistaken by the enemy aircraft for some of their own machines, as they pulled out of the dive and attempted to join up. Major Barker got right on one enemy aircraft’s tail without being observed and after firing forty rounds it fell to the right and broke up in the air. He then attacked another following it down to 3,000 feet and crashed it. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Curtis and Sergeant Frow had got in among the remaining enemy aircraft and Lieutenant Curtis got off fifty rounds at one and then put his observer into a good position and enabled him to fire a further forty rounds. This enemy aircraft was seen to crash on a field near Motta by Major Barker.”
The fighting on July 20 brought Barker’s total of confirmed victories up to thirty-three enemy machines and nine balloons, and he was awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order which was announced officially as follows:—
“London Gazette No. 30989,
2nd November, 1918 Air Ministry. “His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the undermentioned Rewards on Officers and Other Ranks of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of gallantry in Flying Operations against the Enemy:—
AWARDED A BAR TO THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE ORDER
Major William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C., a highly distinguished patrol leader whose courage, resource and determination have set a fine example to those around him. Up to the 20th July, 1918, he had destroyed thirty-three enemy aircraft—twentyone of these since the date of the last award (second Bar to the Military Cross) was conferred .on him. Major Barker has frequently led formations against greatly superior numbers of the enemy with conspicuous success.”
Barker now had the Distinguished Service Older and Bar, the Military Cross and Two Bars, the French Croix de Guerre and the Italian Silver Medal for Valor, twice awarded, a total of eight awards for bravery.
As the reports quoted indicate, the Austrian Scouts were not inclined to show fight and it was necessary for the British to seek the enemy. Barker and his companions, therefore, issued a challenge, highly reminiscent of the days of ancient chivalry and probably quite unique in the annals of the Royal Air Force. At that
time the three leading Austrian flyers were Captain Brumowsky, Rither Von Fiala and Captain Havratil. Barker and his officers prepared a formal challenge to these three and their associates; had hundreds of copies of this challenge printed on the squadron mimeograph on ordinary sheets of paper; and then dropped these printed sheets on different enemy aerodromes, during the course of bombing raids. There could be no doubt that many copies would be received by the Austrians concerned.
The challenge was couched in terms which left nothing to be desired either in politeness or willingness to accommodate the enemy.
“Major W. G. Barker, D.S.O., M.C., and the Officers under his Command present their compliments to:—
Captain Brumowsky Rither Von Fiala Captain Havratil
and the Pilots under their command and request the pleasure and honor of meeting in the air. In order to save Captain Brumowsky, Rither von Fiala and Captain Havratil and gentlemen of his party the inconvenience of searching for them, Major Barker and his Officers will bomb GODEGA aerodrome at 10 a.m. daily, weather permitting, for the ensuing fortnight.”
There was a particular significance in the choice of the place of encounter, as Godega was the largest and most important enemy aerodrome on the whole front. This was carrying the war into the enemy’s territory with a vengeance but in spite of the fact that Barker and his colleagues lived up to their promise and were over Godega every morning, the 139th had little success in inducing the enemy to fight except when cornered.
Toward the end of July, Barker began to fly his Bristol a little more, for a reason that throws an interesting light on the character of another very gallant soldier. The Prince of Wales was attached to the staff of the British Headquarters in Italy during the summer, and took the keenest interest in the activities of the British airmen, but particularly in Barker’s outstanding work. It was not long before he arranged a flight over the British lines in the observer’s seat of Barker’s Bristol and from then on he was a frequent visitor to the 139th Squadron. During the war the Prince displayed always the keenest anxiety to see conditions as they really were, and he was anxious to see something of the disposition of the enemy forces behind the Piave. Unknown to Headquarters he arranged with Barker for the flight and they crossed the enemy’s lines alone, flying back to Vittoria, which was an important centre of Austrian activity about twenty miles from the front in the foothills of the Dolomites. On their way back they were subjected to heavy anti-aircraft fire but met no enemy machines. It was not long before the staff learned of the flight, largely through the intimate knowledge of the enemy back country which the Prince displayed in discussions of campaign plans. So further flights of a similar nature were stopped, but the Prince had proved, as he so often did before and afterward, that he was a soldier of rare courage and anxious to know everything possible about the front on which he was located.
A Show That “Flopped”
A few weeks later they learned from an enemy airman, who had been taken prisoner, that their flight had been most unfortunate from an Austrian point of view, as they had arrived while the Emperor Carl, together with the Archduke Joseph and General Arz, were inspecting the Pergine Aerodrome. The fighting spirit shown by the Austrian airmen was meant to impress the Emperor but the results had been most disastrous, as he had seen a perfect demonstration of what usually happened when the British and Austrians met.
Back to France
BARKER continued to pile up one dramatic exploit after another until he finally left Italy early in September, 1918, having received orders to take command of an instructional school for fighting pilots at Hounslow. On arrival in England he surprised the Air Ministry by asking to be permitted to go to France for a few weeks before taking over his new command. He contended that he should have an opportunity of meeting the new German machines which were a great advance on the Austrian, and of learning the latest aerial tactics on the Western Front before being properly equipped to instruct pilots who would be fighting in France. After considerable argument his request was granted and he started fighting again after little more than two weeks rest.
He was given one of the new Sopwith Snipes which was a combination of the best features of the Sopwith Camel and Sopwith Dolphin. They were tremendously fast and had a “ceiling” of about 24,000 feet. Only a very few of these machines reached the front before the Armistice.
Before the arrival of the Snipe, the Germans had been able for some weeks to cruise about in their latest airplanes well above the highest point which any of the British machines could reach. When Barker reach the front with one of the first Snipes, he found himself in the fortunate position of having a machine that could climb above the highest Germans and frequently take them by surprise, as most of them were not yet expecting to meet any British machines above 20,000 feet. He had a few very successful weeks during the rapid Allied advances of October, 1918. Once more he saw the tide of battle sweep across the Somme plains over which he had flown for nearly two years, and then out beyond into country which none but the most optimistic had imagined they would ever see.
A Sixty-to-One Fight
Y\ 7HEN he received orders that he * ^ must report at Hounslow to take over the squadron to which he had been appointed on October 27, he had raised his total of official victories to forty-six, and the only living British aviators with a higher record were Bishop, Collishaw and MacLaren, all of whom were Canadians. Barker prepared to leave the front, however, with considerable regret. He knew that the command of an instructional squadron meant the end of his active service, and in spite of the fact that he had probably flown longer at the front than any pilot then alive, he had no desire for the comparative safety of instructional work. No one as yet dreamed that peace was only two weeks away.
The morning of October 27 dawned clear and bright. Having packed all his equipment which was to be sent by rail and boat to England, he said good-by to his friends of the squadron to which he had been attached, climbed into his Snipe which had become well-known at the front in the past few weeks and started for Hounslow. But fate had decided that he was not to reach his destination. As he rose rapidly into the clear morning air he saw a large white German two-seater soaring over the British lines in fancied security far above the height at which it expected to meet any British Scouts. Barker was now on his way home, had said good-by to the war and had every reason to be satisfied with his record at the front; but here was an enemy who could only be reached by a machine like his own, and without a moment’s hesitation he decided to attack. He climbed to a height of 22,000 feet and engaged the enemy over the Mormal Forest. As they manoeuvred for position at tremendous speed Barker found that the German pilot was exceptionally good and handled his machine so well that it was impossible to get close without running directly into the fire of the enemy observer who was shooting with deadly accuracy and had hit the Snipe several times. Once again Barker trusted to his shooting skill. He had removed the standard aviation sight on his guns and had replaced it with an ordinary peep sight. Circling at the same height until he was several hundred yards away, he turned again toward the enemy machine and took careful aim at the observer. At about two hundred yards he pulled the trigger and the German observer collapsed in his seat. Barker now closed in and a short burst from his deadly guns shot away some vital part of the two-seater and it broke up in the air.
He had been so intent on the battle with his skilful opponent that for perhaps the first time in all his fighting experience he was taken completely by surprise. During the fight a Fokker biplane had climbed above him, and he only became aware of its presence when his right thigh was shattered by an explosive bullet just as his first enemy went down. Although his right leg was now useless he immediately turned on the Fokker, and after a short flight in which both machines lost considerable height, his unerring eye found the enemy under his guns for the vital fraction of a second and a stream of well directed bullets sent it down in flames.
He now found himself in the middle of a complete German “circus” of nearly sixty Fokkers, according to the estimate of observers on the ground who saw the whole course of the amazing battle. They attacked from every direction and thousands of bullets streamed at him from all sides. His machine was riddled and once again he was severely wounded, this time in the left thigh. He continued the apparently hopeless fight, however, and drove two of the enemy machines down in a spin, but whether or not they crashed the spectators on the ground did not see.
He then fainted from loss of blood and his machine fell completely out of control for several thousand feet with the engine wide open, and it seemed to those on the ground that his plucky fight had come to an end; but the rush of air revived him and he succeeded in regaining control of his machine, only to find that he was still being attacked by the Fokkers. It evidently seemed to him that he had no chance of surviving, and so, turning on one of the enemy in front of him, he deliberately charged it with the obvious intention of crashing it with his own machine; but he was still firing and just as it seemed that the two machines would crash, his bullets found their mark and the German went down in flames.
During this last fight his left elbow was shot away by an explosive bullet and he again fainted, his machine circling at full speed, completely out of control. Just when it seemed that nothing could save him he regained consciousness and again commenced to fight. Although both legs and his left arm were now practically useless, he succeeded in controlling his machine and dived on the tail of the nearest German, shooting it down in flames.
He then attempted to dive for the British lines but was intercepted by another formation of German machines. He fought these new machines as few able-bodied pilots could have done, and although he could now scarcely sit up from weakness he broke up their formation. He turned again toward the British lines just as one of the German machines shot his gasoline tank completely away from under his seat. It was only by the rarest chance that his machine did not take fire. Just as he was losing consciousness again, he mustered sufficient strength to turn on a small auxiliary tank which carried enough gasoline for a few minutes flight.
By now he had practically no control of the machine, and there was no possibility of reducing its speed for a landing. He came down just behind the British lines at terrific speed and the machine turned completely over as it crashed. Some Highlanders who were the first to reach the wreck were amazed to find him still alive. The only additional injury he had received on landing was a broken nose.
He did not regain consciousness for some days and his life hung in the balance for many more, but his rugged constitution pulled him through and he was moved back to No. 8 General Hospital at Rouen.
The story of this great fight, which has no parallel in the official records of any of the armies in the war, brought letters and messages from all parts of the battlefront as well as from England and Canada such as few of any rank were fortunate enough to receive. In themselves they constitute a recognition of his valor as gratifying as any known which could have been bestowed.
One of the earliest messages was a personal message from the King, forwarded on the customary military form by the Deputy Director of Medical Services at Rouen to the Officer Commanding No. 8 General Hospital.
“To O.C., No. 8 General Hospital.
“Please convey to Major Barker, D.S.O., M.C., R.A.F. (Canada), the following personal message by telephone to G.H.Q. from His Majesty the King:
“ ‘I am happy to hear you are making satisfactory progress in spite of your serious wounds and I wish you good luck and a speedy recovery.’
“From D.D.M.S., Rouen.”
About the same time he received a letter from Lord Claude Hamilton, who was with the Prince of Wales at Canadian Corps Headquarters:—
“H.Q., Canadian Corps, Nov. 9th.
“I am asked by the Prince of Wales to convey to you his heartiest congratulations on the magnificent fight you put up at your last encounter with the Huns. He is very sorry that your command of your new squadron should be of so short a time and he hopes that your wounds are progressing as well as possible.
“Please accept my heartiest congratulations also.
“C. N. Hamilton.”
The V.C. Award
TOWARD the end of November he received word that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross. For once the official statement lost a little of its cold formality and the following announcement of the award was published on November 20th:
“London Gazette No. 31042 30th November, 1918,
“His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Officer of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of bravery of the highest possible order:
“Major William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C.
No. 201 Sqn., R.A. Force
“On the morning of the 27th October, 1918, this officer observed an enemy two-seater over the Forest 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 this, 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 up 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.
“Major Barker was awarded the Military Cross on 10th January, 1917; first Bar on 18th July, 1917; the Distinguished Service Order on 18th February, 1918; second Bar to Military Cross on 16th September, 1918, and Bar to Distinguished Service Order on 2nd November, 1918.”
The next day messages of congratulations poured in, but two which he prized as much as any others were those from the Canadian General Staff and Lieutenant-Colonel Bishop who was the first Canadian airman to win the Victoria Cross.
“To Major Barker, V.C., D.S.O., M.C.,
No. 8 General Hpl., Rouen.,
G. 37. 29th.
“All ranks overseas military forces of Canada congratulate you on your great honor and send sincere wishes for your early recovery.
“General Staff, “Canadians.”
"To Major Barker, V.C., D.S.O., M.C.,
8 General Hospital, Rouen.
“My heartiest congratulations for the great honor you have received and best wishes for your speedy recovery. As ever,
On December 6, he received the following letter from the Canadian Premier, Sir Robert Borden, who was at the time in London:
“London, December 4th, 1918. “Dear Major Barker:—
“May I be permitted to offer my very warm congratulations upon the remarkable series of gallant exploits which has recently been made public and on account of which His Majesty has been pleased to confer upon you the Victoria Cross. The inspiring story which has just been told in the press has thrilled the hearts of all Canadians. I trust that you are making good progress toward recovery from your injuries and I send
every good wish. Yours faithfully,
“R. L. Borden.”
“Major William G. Barker, V.C., Royal Air Force,
No. 8 General Hospital,
The hopes expressed in the letters and messages were speedily realized and, in January, 1919, Barker was able to be moved to England, where he completed
Shortly after arriving in England, his meteoric war career was rounded out by promotion to the rank of LieutenantColonel. In the spring of 1915 he had left Brandon with the 1st C.M.R. as No. 106,074, Private Barker, William George. Four years later, at the age of twentyfour, he had risen one step at a time to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and wore on his breast, in addition to the coveted Victoria Cross, the senior decorations of England, France and Italy.
The Prince’s One-Armed Pilot
T ATE in the spring of 1919, while
' Barker was still in hospital but able to get around, the Prince of Wales gave a surprising demonstration of his confidence in Barker’s flying ability, doubtless founded on his experiences in Italy. Sopwith had just brought out a new twoseater called the “Dove,” which had been designed before the end of the war, and was particularly anxious that the Prince of Wales should have a flight in it. The Prince was equally anxious to fly in this latest type of fighter and in spite of the fact that Barker’s arm was quite useless, arranged that he should pilot the machine.
The Prince’s car took Barker from the hospital to the landing field, and after one short flight to test the controls, the Prince climbed into the observer’s seat and they took off. For the next half hour Londoners who gazed skyward saw a startling exhibition of looping, rolling, and diving, as Barker put the furiously fast Sopwith Dove through its paces. But they would have been dumbfounded if they had known that the machine carried the heir to the British throne and was flown by a pilot just out of hospital, one of whose arms lay useless in a sling. The machine performed beautifully and they made a perfect landing after a flight which had been entirely satisfactory to both of them. Those present at the landing field would perhaps have been less surprised if they had known that the Prince had flown with Barker several times before, once far over the enemy’s lines.
Later in the year Barker returned to this country and with Bishop organized one of the first commercial aviation companies in Canada. The venture did not prove profitable, however, and in 1920 he rejoined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was shortly afterward sent to England as liaison officer at the Air Ministry. While on duty in England he went on a particularly interesting expedition and flew for months over Iraq and Palestine, choosing flying routes for the Royal Air Force in the East.
In 1924 he returned to Canada, resigned his commission and has since then been engaged in the tobacco-growing industry near Simcoe.
Barker’s record of fifty machines and nine balloons places him third among Canadians and fourth in the whole Royal Air Force, but above the mere numbers of official victories stands the even more amazing record of nearly three years continuous flying on active service. Combined with almost unexampled courage were patience and devotion to the task in hand, which marked this young Canadian as one of the greatest airmen in the war. There was reason for the Latin enthusiasm which inscribed on his second Italian Cross of Valor, “Protector of the Air.”
Editor’s Note—Major Drew will continue his story of Canada’s war-time aces in an early issue.