Canadian History for Kids!

Canadian History for Kids: Billy Barker

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and Canadian History for Kids have assembled 31 remarkable stories about incredible people, places and events which helped shape our amazing nation.

A grateful nation never forgets a hero.

There are many significant stories to be told about the ‘war to end all wars’. This story is about a young Manitoba farm boy, who by winning the Victoria Cross in aerial combat must be regarded as one of the most outstanding contributions possible to Canadian aviation.

This is the story of Billy Barker.

Billy Barker was born on a family farm in Dauphin, Manitoba and grew up on the family farm, riding horses, shooting, and working as a youngster on his father’s farm and sawmill.

Barker fell in love with flying after watching pioneer aviators flying Curtiss and Wright Flyer aircraft at farm exhibitions between 1910 and 1914. He was a Boy Scout at Russell, Manitoba, and a member of the 32nd Light Horse, a Non-Permanent Active Militia unit based at Roblin, Manitoba. He was in Grade 11 at Dauphin Collegiate Institute in the fall of 1914, just before his enlistment.

After the outbreak of World War I, Barker, in his final year of high school at Dauphin Collegiate, volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, enlisting as a trooper in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles Regiment on 1 Dec. 1914. He trained as a machine-gunner and arrived in the United Kingdom in June 1915. In September his regiment entered the Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium, where he served until late February 1916.

Weary of trench life, Barker volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps as a gunner; he received four weeks of field training with 9 Squadron. He was commissioned a temporary second lieutenant and then joined 4 Squadron as an observer. Four months later he and his pilot received the Military Cross for their superior work in support of an assault on Beaumont-Hamel (Beaumont), France. In December he was sent to England for pilot training.

Barker completed all flying and ground school training in the brief period of four weeks, was graded a flying officer on 14 Feb. 1917, and returned to 15 Squadron.

And what a fighter pilot!

He was credited with 53 aerial victories during WWI, but is mostly remembered for the epic, single-handed combat on 27 Oct 1918 against some 60 German aircraft that won him the Victoria Cross.

He took to the skies that Sunday morning over France in a Sopwith Snipe and shot down four German aircraft in succession.

He had no choice but to fight with the German aircraft. Some estimates say there were 60 enemy planes in the sky against the Canadian flyer, but he lived to tell the tale.

Barker was seriously injured in the battle and was left to fight for his own life in a field hospital with severe wounds to both legs and his left arm.

Nevertheless, his actions witnessed by Canadian infantry on the ground, saw him awarded the Victoria Cross and a lasting place in the pantheon of Canadian war heroes.

Barker returned to Canada in May 1919 as the most decorated Canadian of the war, with the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Military Cross and two Bars, two Italian Silver Medals for Military Valour, and the French Croix de guerre.

After the war, Barker was just as hectic. He was the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs and founding acting director of the RCAF. He and business partner Billy Bishop started Canada’s first commercial airline before Barker died in an aircraft crash in March 1930.

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