Author Tags: War
William Barker, who had the most successful flying career in the history of the Royal Air Force, won the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross and six other bravery medals. The log book for his Sopwith Camel B6313 is displayed in the Imperial War Museum. Former RCAF flying instructor Wayne Ralph of White Rock wrote the biography Barker VC: The Life, Death and Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero (1997).
In 1917, William Barker was the brash Canadian pilot who provided the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway's most famous Esquire short story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro". On Christmas Day, Barker, then 22, and a teenage comrade, undertook an unauthorized aerial attack in northern Italy, attacking a German aerodrome during bad weather. This action so irritated the Germans that they launched a spontaneous retaliation on Boxing Day. The German counter-attack proved unsuccessful, according to Wayne Ralph, largely because so many of the German pilots were drunk or hungover.
Born in Dauphin, Manitoba on November 3, 1894, Barker grew up in Victoria and later became the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1927. Returning home, Barker also became a pioneer in Canada's fledgling civil aviation industry, starting an ill-fated business with flying ace Billy Bishop. Estranged from his family and always struggling with a drinking problem, Barker never settled into civilian life. When he died in an Ottawa airshow crash in March of 1930, his state funeral was the largest in Toronto's history. He is entombed in a crypt with the name Smith on the tomb's door -- because that was his wife's maiden name. In March of 1998, Nepean-Carleton MP David Pratt introduced a motion in the House of Commons to commission a statue to honour Canada's most decorated war hero, Lt. Colonel William Barker, after reading Ralph's biography.
More WW II veterans die every day than at the height of the Second World War. Based on his tape-recorded interviews over the past four years with more than 100 pilots, Wayne Ralph has written Aces, Warriors and Wingmen: Firsthand Accounts of Canada’s Fighter Pilots in the Second World War (Wiley, $34.99), a follow-up to his biography Barker VC that resulted in two television documentaries. Wayne Ralph is one of the characters in the new book as he describes his efforts to contact and interview his subjects to gain their firsthand narratives and reveal the emotional lives of the fighter pilots. More than 40 life stories are told in detail. Included are Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm carrier pilots, Coastal Command anti-shipping pilots, night fighter and intruder pilots and navigators on the Mosquito and Beaufighter, fighter bomber pilots on the Typhoon and the day fighter pilots flying Spitfires, Hurricanes, Kittyhawks, and Mustangs. More than 20 of Ralph’s interviewees died in the two years preceding publication.
Wayne Ralph was born in St. John's, Newfoundland. He grew up in a military family and served in the Candian armed forces between 1965 and 1973. A pilot with Pacific Western Airlines, he also edited Wings Magazine (1976-1981 and completed an MA in 1983 with a thesis on weapons procurement. He is the past president of the Air Force Officers Association of Greater Vancouver, a member of the Air Force Association of Canada, the Aircrew Association and the Royal Air Force Club, London. He has published various aviation articles and received the McWilliams Medal of the Manitoba Historical Society and the McIntyre Research Award of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society for his first book.
Barker VC—The Life, Death and Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero (Doubleday, 1997) 0385256825
Aces, Warriors and Wingmen: Firsthand Accounts of Canada’s Fighter Pilots in the Second World War (Wiley, 2005) 0-470-83590-7
[BCBW 2005] "War"
The documentary ‘The Hero’s Hero: The Forgotten Life of William Barker’ was first broadcast in Canada on History television in March, 2003. It’s based on Wayne Ralph’s Barker VC - The Life, Death and Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero, available from Vanwell Publishing.
PRESS RELEASE FOLLOW-UP
Road House Films Inc. and Ocean Entertainment Ltd. are pleased to announce the first public screening of Michael MacDonald's latest documentary, "The Hero's Hero: The Forgotten Life of William Barker," at the 22nd annual Atlantic Film Festival. The one-hour film about this gifted WWI flying Ace will screen on Tuesday, September 16 at 7:15 p.m. at Famous Players Park Lane Cinema 6.
"Barker was the greatest, and deserves his place in the pantheon of Canadian flying heroes. It's time that Billy Barker, the undiscovered hero, was better known. This terrific film helps Canadians appreciate who he was and the legacy he left." -- Pierre Berton
"A heartfelt biography . . . a stirring story . . . surprising revelations . . . timely viewing." - Andrew Ryan, The Globe and Mail
"Fascinating . . . in-depth . . .'The Hero's Hero' is thorough, enlightening, and quite captivating, an impressive feat." - Brad Oswald, Winnipeg Free Press
His name may not ring many bells today, but Lt. Col. William George Barker, VC, was "the greatest fighter pilot that ever lived," according to Canada's better-known Ace, Billy Bishop. To this day, Barker - a Manitoba farm boy - remains Canada's most decorated soldier, and his untimely demise at age 34 remains a mystery.
A fighter pilot in World War I was signing his own death warrant. Planes were primitive. There was little training. The average life expectancy was less than three weeks. Yet William Barker logged more time in the air than virtually any other pilot. Among his peers, he was idolized for his brilliance, his modesty, and his unwavering courage under fire. But Barker's prodigal talents ultimately turned against him after the war, in a fall from grace that shocked the nation at a time when even other war heroes admired Barker.
Filmed at locations in Canada, France and Italy, "The Hero's Hero" also features exclusive interviews with Billy Bishop's son and WWII pilot Arthur Bishop, noted Canadian military historian Sydney Wise and Barker biographer Wayne Ralph. Also interviewed are Barker's siblings Marie and Orval (now deceased) and John Gray and Eric Peterson, the creative duo behind the popular stageplay "Billy Bishop Goes to War." The film incorporates compelling WWI footage and photographs from dozens of sources.
The screening is a chance to learn about this forgotten Canadian legend, in case you missed the film's April 15 premiere on History Television. The inaugural broadcast of The Hero's Hero began just 15 minutes before U.S. President George Bush declared war on Iraq. Even so, the show drew a solid number of viewers, and Barker's story of skill and determination offers insights still applicable in today's wartime situations.
The Hero's Hero: The Forgotten Life of William Barker.
Produced by Ocean Entertainment Ltd.
Director: Michael MacDonald - Road House Films Inc.
Executive Producer: Peter Raymont
Producer: Johanna Eliot
Production Executive, History Television: Sydney Suissa
Production Executives, History Television: Cindy Witten and Michael Kot
[BCBW 2003] "War"
Aces, Warriors & Wingmen
Press Release (for 2005)
Wayne Ralph, author of the award-winning biography that resulted in two television documentaries, BARKER VC – The Life, Death and Legend of Canada’s Most Decorated War Hero, will publish his new book in 2005 with John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.
Based on his tape-recorded interviews over the past four years with more than 100 Second World War fighter pilots, Ralph has written an evocative, emotional memoir about the world of aerial combat. Unlike the typical military history, the author is one of the characters in the book and his journey to find and interview these war veterans is part of the narrative. His story is woven around their firsthand accounts of war and peace.
Aces, Warriors and Wingmen: Firsthand Accounts of Canada’s Fighter Pilots in the Second World War is not intended as an operational history. Though many exciting operational stories are told, the book is an exploration of the sociology and emotional world of the fighter pilot, and his evolution from novice to expert. In tone and theme the book is similar to The Greatest Generation by American author Tom Brokaw.
More than 40 life stories are told in detail. Each includes not only the drama of combat but also anecdotes of childhood, family history, and post-war readjustment. All theatres of the war are featured, including the Western Desert, Malta, India, Burma, Japan, and northwest Europe. The author has tracked down a broad range of fighter pilots and some of the aces and their recollections are candid and sometimes surprising. In addition to famous figures, well known in aviation history, there are stories of many average men who simply wanted to serve. Included are Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm carrier pilots; Coastal Command anti-shipping pilots; night fighter and intruder pilots and navigators on the Mosquito and Beaufighter; fighter bomber pilots on the Typhoon and, the most visible and famous in public memory, the day fighter pilots flying Spitfires, Hurricanes, Kittyhawks, and Mustangs.
Aces, Warriors and Wingmen will be a hard-covered book, about 9” by 8”, illustrated with more than 100 original photographs. Many of the photos have never before been published, and will include images of fighter pilots in the war and also as they appear today. Given their average age, the mortality rate of these veterans is high. More than 20 of those interviewed have died in the past two years. More veterans die every day than at the height of the Second World War.