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, 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).
Temp. 2nd Lt. William George Barker, Gen. List and R.F.C.
For conspicuous gallantry in action. He flew at a height of 500 feet over the enemy's lines, and brought back most valuable information. On another occasion, after driving off two hostile machines, he carried out an excellent photographic reconnaissance.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has done continuous good work in co-operation with the artillery, and has carried out successful reconnaissances under most difficult and dangerous conditions.
T./Capt. William George Barker, M.C., Gen. Lisit and R.F.C.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When on scouting and patrol work he has on five different occasions brought down and destroyed five enemy aeroplanes and two balloons, though on two of these occasions he was attacked by superior numbers. On each occasion the hostile machines were observed to crash to earth, the wreckage bursting into flames. His splendid example of fearlessness and magnificent leadership have been of inestimable value to his squadron.
T./Capt. William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C., Gen. List and R.F.C.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When leading patrols he on one occasion attacked eight hostile machines, himself shooting down two, and on another occasion seven, one of which he shot down. In two months he himself destroyed four enemy machines and drove down one, and burned two balloons.
(M.C. gazetted 10th January, 1917.)
(Bar to M.C. gazetted 18th July, 1917.)
Capt. (T./Major) William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C.
A highly distinguished patrol leader whose courage, resource and determination has set a fine example to those around him. Up to the 20th July, 1918, he had destroyed thirty-three enemy aircraft—twenty-one 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.
Capt. (A./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 Fôret 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 endeavoured 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.