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"JOU" 2003 Obituary


JOUBERT 

JOUBERT o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-11-11 published
The crash of a Canadian hero
Lest we forget, Roy MacGREGOR traces the spectacular feats and the sad fall of a flying ace
By Roy MacGREGOR, Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - Page A1
Ottawa -- Here is as good a place as any to lay a small poppy on Remembrance Day.
It is nothing but a concrete dock ramp on the Ontario shore of the Ottawa River, not far downstream from the Parliament Buildings.
There is nothing here to say what happened that cold March day back in 1930, and on this, a fine brisk morning in November, 73 years later, there is only a lone biker, a man walking two setters along the path that twists along this quiet spot, and a small, single-engine airplane revving in the background as it prepares to take off from the little Rockcliffe airstrip.
Seventy-three years ago, another small plane took off from this airfield, turned sharply over the distant trees, flew low and full-throttle over the runway and went into a steep climb that eventually cut out the engine and sent the new Fairchild twisting toward this spot -- instantly killing Canada's most-decorated war hero.
Will BARKER, 35, of Dauphin, Manitoba
Perhaps you've heard of him. Likely not. He is, in some ways, the test case for Lest We Forget.
Lieutenant-Colonel William George BARKER won the Victoria Cross for what many believe was the greatest dogfight of the First World War.
He was alone in his Sopwith Snipe over Bois de Marmal, France, on October 27, 1918, when he was attacked, official reports say, by 60 enemy aircraft -- Mr. BARKER, who rarely talked of his war experience, always said 15 -- and he shot down three before passing out from devastating wounds to both legs and his arm, only to come to again in mid-air, turn on the fighter intending to put an end to him and bring down a fourth before he himself crash-landed in full view of astonished British troops, who were even more amazed when they got to the plane and found him still alive, if barely.
The four that one day took Mr. BARKER's list to 50 downed aircraft. He returned to Canada as Lt.-Col. William George BARKER, V.C., D.S.O. and enough other medals to lay claim to being Canada's most honoured combatant -- if he'd ever cared to do so. As British Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip JOUBERT wrote, "Of all the flyers of the two World Wars, none was greater than BARKER."
He came home and went into the aviation business with another Canadian Victoria Cross winner, Billy BISHOP. He married Mr. BISHOP's wealthy cousin, Jean SMITH, and had a miserable next dozen years. The business failed, the marriage teetered, he suffered depression and terrible pain from his injuries, and the previous non-drinker soon became a drinker.
It seemed life was taking a turn for the better in January of 1930 when Fairchild hired him to help sell planes to the Canadian government. A test pilot had been sent to show off the plane at Rockcliffe, but the veteran fighter unfortunately insisted on taking it up himself for a run.
Some say he committed suicide here; some say he was showing off for an 18-year-old daughter of another Rockcliffe pilot; his biographer believes he was just being too aggressive with a new, unknown machine and "screwed up."
They held the funeral in Toronto, with a cortege two miles long, 2,000 uniformed men, honour guards from four countries and 50,000 people lining the streets. As they carried the coffin into Mount Pleasant Cemetery, six biplanes swooped down, sprinkling rose petals over the crowd.
"His name," Sir Arthur CURRIE announced, "will live forever in the annals of the country which he served so nobly."
His name, alas, is not even on the crypt -- only " SMITH," his wife's snobbish family who never really accepted the rough-hewn outsider from Manitoba.
Somehow, he became all but forgotten. Though Mr. BISHOP called Mr. BARKER "the deadliest air fighter that ever lived," it is Mr. BISHOP who lives on in the public imagination. Often, if Mr. BARKER is mentioned at all, "Billy" BARKER, as he was known to his air colleagues, is confused with "Billy" BISHOP.
A request for a government plaque to commemorate his Manitoba birthplace was rejected the first time, but there is now some small recognition thanks in large part to the work of Inky MARK, the Member of Parliament for Dauphin-Swan Lake and the excellent military biography, BARKER VC, produced a few years back by Wayne RALPH.
Mr. RALPH, a Newfoundlander now living in White Rock, British Columbia, thinks Mr. BARKER was simply too much "the warrior" for the Canadian appetite.
"He was an international superstar," says Mr. RALPH. " BARKER had all the traits of the great Hollywood heroes. He was disobedient, gregarious, flamboyant. He was a frontier kid, a classical figure in the American style of hero. Born in a log cabin, went on to fame and fortune, and died tragically at 35.
"Now he is basically buried in anonymity. To me, it's the perfect metaphor for Canada, where we bury our past."
Today, though, even if it is only a poppy dropped at the end of a concrete boat ramp, we will remember.

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