Major William Barker

Wing Commander William George Barker was born in a log cabin near Dauphin, Manitoba, in 1894. But when he died, his funeral procession was the largest public event Toronto, Ontario, had ever seen, with a 2,000-man honour guard and more than 50,000 spectators. Moreover, his record as Canada’s most highly decorated war hero stands to this day.

He began his war service in the Army, but transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. A brilliant aerial tactician but a real maverick, he frequently disobeyed orders. In the meantime, however, he racked up victory after victory in the air and caused havoc in the German lines.

On October 27, 1918, just days before the Armistice, he took to the skies in an unauthorized lone dawn patrol and tangled with a group of German aircraft. Although badly wounded, he shot down several enemy aircraft and earned the Victoria Cross for the action. He also received the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Military Cross and two Bars, the French Croix de guerre, and the Italian Valore Militaire medal, and was mentioned in dispatches twice.

By 1924 Barker held the highest position in the CAF — acting director — and during his tenure the RCAF was born. Six years later he was working for Fairchild Aircraft Ltd. of Canada in Montreal. He died on March 12, 1930, while demonstrating a new Fairchild aircraft in Ottawa. Barker was interred in his wife’s family crypt in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery Mausoleum in Toronto. And — although he was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974 — as the years passed, few remembered him and fewer knew his final resting place. He was truly a forgotten hero.

That changed in September 2011, when a long-overdue memorial in William Barker’s memory was unveiled just outside the Mausoleum.

Major William Barker, commander of No. 28 Squadron, with his Sopwith Camel.