Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, was awarded the Victoria Cross by His Majesty King George VI in a ceremony at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, England. Wing Commander Gibson received the medal for his leadership of No. 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, during Operation Chastise, an attack on Germany’s Ruhr Valley hydroelectric dams, 16–17 May 1943.
The Victoria Cross ranks with the George Cross as the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry.
The first British medal to be created for bravery, the Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, with the first recipients being personnel honored for their gallantry during the Crimean War.
The bronze cross pattée, which bears the inscription “FOR VALOUR,” is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean campaign. The Victoria Cross is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”
Air Ministry, 28th May, 1943.
ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —
Acting Wing Commander Guy Penrose GIBSON, D.S.O., D.F.C. (39438), Reserve of Air Force Officers, No. 617 Squadron: —
This officer served as a night bomber pilot at the beginning of the war and quickly established a reputation as an outstanding operational pilot. In addition to taking the fullest possible share in all normal operations, he made single-handed attacks during his “rest” nights on such highly defended objectives as the German battleship Tirpitz, then completing in Wilhelmshaven.
When his tour of operational duty was concluded, he asked for a further operational posting and went to a night-fighter unit instead of being posted for instructional duties. In the course of his second operational tour, he destroyed at least three enemy bombers and contributed much to the raising and development of new night-fighter formations.
After a short period in a training unit, he again volunteered for operational duties and returned to night bombers. Both as an operational pilot and as leader of his squadron, he achieved outstandingly successful results and his personal courage knew no bounds. Berlin, Cologne, Danzig, Gdynia, Genoa, Le Creusot, Milan, Nuremberg and Stuttgart were among the targets he attacked by day and by night.
On the conclusion of his third operational tour, Wing Commander Gibson pressed strongly to be allowed to remain on operations and he was selected to command a squadron then forming for special tasks. Under his inspiring leadership, this squadron has now executed one of the most devastating attacks of the war—the breaching of the Moehne and Eder dams.
The task was fraught with danger and difficulty. Wing Commander Gibson personally made the initial attack on the Moehne dam. Descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the antiaircraft defences, he delivered his attack with great accuracy. Afterwards he circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself in order to leave as free a run as possible to the following aircraft which were attacking the dam in turn.
Wing Commander Gibson then led the remainder of his force to the Eder dam where, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully developed.
Wing Commander Gibson has completed over 170 sorties, involving more than 600 hours operational flying. Throughout his operational career, prolonged exceptionally at his own request, he has shown leadership, determination and valour of the highest order.
—The London Gazette, Tuesday, 25 May 1943, No. 3630 at Page 2361
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve the grant of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers, Non-commissioned officer, and Men, for their conspicuous acts of bravery and devotion to duty whilst serving with the Expeditionary Force :—
2nd Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse, Special Reserve, Royal Flying Corps.
For most conspicuous bravery on 26th April, 1915, in flying to Courtrai and dropping bombs on the railway line near that station. On starting the return journey he was mortally wounded, but succeeded in flying for 35 miles to his destination, at a very low altitude, and reported the successful accomplishment of his object. He has since died of his wounds.
—The London Gazette, Special Supplement 29170, Saturday, 22 May, 1915 at Pages 4989–4990
Beginning 22 April 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres, the military forces of the German Empire began to use lethal chlorine gas as a weapon on the battlefield. A second mass gas attack took place on 24 April.
The Royal Flying Corps was ordered to interdict the German supply lines by bombing railways. On 26 April 1915, Second-Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhead, Royal Flying Corps, of No. 2 Squadron at Merville, France, was assigned to attack the railway at Kortrijk, West Floandern (Courtrai, West Flanders) with his Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2.b reconnaissance airplane, number 687.
Departing alone from Merville at 3:05 p.m., Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse flew to his target, approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) away. He approached the railway station from an altitude of approximately 300 feet (91 meters) to accurately drop his single 100 pound (45.4 kilogram) bomb. He was hit in a leg by a rifle bullet, and shrapnel from his bomb damaged his airplane.
As Rhodes-Moorhouse flew away from the railroad station, he descended to 200 feet (61 meters) and was wounded twice more.
The wounds to his hand and leg were serious, but the one to his abdomen was mortal. However, he continued the difficult return flight in his damaged airplane, and arrived back at Merville at 4:12 p.m. Rhodes-Moorhouse’ airplane had 95 holes from bullets and shrapnel. The wounded pilot insisted on making a report to his commanding officer and friend, Captain Maurice Bernal Blake, before being taken to an aid station.
It was soon apparent that Rhodes-Moorhouse would not survive. Captain Blake informed him that he had recommended that he be awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
Second-Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse, No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, died of wounds at 2:25 p.m., 27 April 1915.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest award for valor, on 22 May 1915. Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse was the first airman of the British Empire to be so decorated.
His medal is part of the Lord Ashcroft Victoria Cross Collection, displayed in the Aschcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum. He also was awarded the 1914–1915 Star, The British War Medal 1914–1918, and the Allied Victory Medal.
Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres, K.P., G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O., K.C.M.G., A.D.C., P.C., commanding general of the British Expeditionary Force, later said that Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse had been responsible for “the most important bomb dropped during the war so far.”
Rhodes-Morehouse’ remains were buried at the family home at Parnham Park,¹ Beaminster, Dorset. After his son, Flight Lieutenant William Henry Rhodes-Morehouse, D.F.C., No. 601 Squadron, was killed when his Hawker Hurricane was shot down during the Battle of Britain, his ashes were placed alongside his father.
William Barnard Rhodes Moorhouse was born into a wealthy family at 15 Princes Gate, London, England, 26 September 1887. He was one of four children of Edward Moorhouse, “a gentleman of independent means,” and Mary Ann Rhodes, the wealthiest woman in New Zealand. Moorhouse was educated Harrow School in northwest London, and Trinity College, Cambridge.
Moorhouse developed an early interest in aviation and was soon an expert airman of international renown. Working with James Radley at Huntingdon, he developed the Radley-Moorhouse Monoplane. In 1910, Radley and Moorhouse traveled to the United States to demonstrate their airplane. Moorhouse is reportedly the first person to have flown through San Francisco’s Golden Gate. He was granted pilot’s certificate No. 147 by the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, 17 October 1911.
In 1912, Moorhouse legally changed his surname to Rhodes-Moorhouse (and thereby replaced his second middle name, or maternal surname, Rhodes), because of the terms of his grandfather’s will. A Royal Licence authorizing the change was granted 11 January 1913, and published in The London Gazette ten days later.²
Rhodes-Moorhouse married Miss Linda Beatrice Morrit at St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge, 25 June 1912, . They had one son, William Henry Rhodes-Moorhouse, born in 1914.
Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes-Moorhouse, along with John Henry Ledeboer, crossed the English Channel on 4 August 1912 in a three-place Société des Ateliers d’Aviation Louis Breguet 3-place biplane, flying from Douai, in northern France, where the airplane was built, to Ashwood, Staffordshire, England. The airplane was destroyed in a crash landing, but no one was hurt.
With England drawn into World War I, Rhodes-Moorhouse joined the Royal Flying Corps, 24 August 1914, and was assigned to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. He was transferred to No. 2 Squadron, joining the unit at Merrville on 21 March 1915. He died just over one month later.
The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E. (which stands for Blériot Experimental, meaning that it was a tractor-type airplane, which had been developed by Louis Blériot) was designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was a two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane which was used as a trainer, reconnaissance aircraft, artillery spotter or bomber. An observer occupied the forward cockpit and the pilot was aft.
The B.E.2.b was essentially the same as the B.E.2.a, except the cockpit sides were higher. The elevator control cables were external from the pilot’s cockpit, aft. Probably the most significant change was the use of ailerons for the B.E.2.b, where the previous versions had used wing-warping like the original 1903 Wright Flyer.
The fuselage was constructed of a wooden framework, cross-braced with wires. The wings had wood spars and ribs. The airframe was covered in doped fabric.
The wings of the 2.a and 2.b were straight with no dihedral. Both upper and lower wings had the same span and there was no stagger. The lower wing spars were connected through the fuselage with steel tubing. The landing gear had both wheels and tires, but also wood-covered steel tube skids extending forward to protect the propeller from contacting the ground.
The B.E.2.a–2.b was 29 feet, 6½ inches (9.004 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 7½ inches (11.773 meters). It had an empty weight of 1,274 pounds (578 kilograms) and gross weight of 1,650 pounds (748 kilograms).
The B.E.2, B.E.2.a and B.E.2.b were powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 6.949 liter (424.036 cubic inch) Renault Type WB side-valve 90° V-8 engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.12:1. The WB was rated at 70 horsepower at 1,750 r.p.m. The engine drove a four-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller at one-half crankshaft speed. The Renault WB was 3 feet, 9.5 inches (1.556 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.8 inches (0.833 meters) high and 2 feet, 5.8 inches (0.757 meters) wide. It weighed 396 pounds (180 kilograms).
The airplane had a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour (113 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet (1,981 meters). It could climb to 3,000 feet (914 meters) in 9 minutes and 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) in 35 minutes. The service ceiling was 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Maximum endurance was 3 hours.
The B.E.2.b was unarmed. The crew could only defend themselves with their personal weapons. The type was easy prey for German fighters. It could carry a small bomb.
Although designed by the Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnbourough, only 6 B.E.2s were built there. The remainder were built by Armstong Whitworth, British and Colonial Airplane Co., Coventry Ordnance Works, Handley Page, Hewlett and Blondeau, and Vickers. Eighty-five of the B.E.2.b variant were produced, with most being used as trainers. Nineteen were sent to the Expeditionary Force in France, and one to the Middle East Brigade. By late 1915, the type had been almost completely replaced by the improved B.E.2.c.
A reproduction of the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2.b flown by Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse is in the collection of the Royal Air Force Museum. In a 2015 interview with Richard Moss for “Culture 24,” Ian Thirsk, Head of Collections, said, “It’s another gem of the collection, and was built from scratch by a designer called John McKenzie to the original drawings at the former RAF Museum facility at Cardington between 1983 and 1988.”
¹ Interestingly, Parnham House is believed to have been the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Baskerville Hall” in his famous novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).
² The London Gazette, Number 28683, Tuesday, 21 January 1913, at Page 494, Column 1
30 March 1918: Near Borgo del Molino, Italy, Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, No. 66 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps,¹ was flying a Sopwith Camel, serial number B5648, while on an intruder mission with two other pilots, Captain Peter Carpenter, M.C., and Lieutenant Harold Ross Eycott-Martin. Jerrard engaged a group of Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen (Austrian Air Force) Albatros D.III fighters:
1st May, 1918
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officers of the Royal Air Force, for services displaying outstanding bravery:—
Lt. Alan Jerrard, Royal Air Force (formerly of the South Staffordshire Regiment)
When on an offensive patrol with two other officers he attacked five enemy aeroplanes and shot down one in flames, following it down within one hundred feet of the ground.
He then attacked an enemy aerodrome from a height of only fifty feet from the ground, and, engaging single-handed some nineteen machines, which were either landing or attempting to take off, succeeded in destroying one of them, which crashed on the aerodrome. A large number of machines attacked him, and whilst thus fully occupied he observed that one of the pilots of his patrol was in difficulties. He went immediately to his assistance, regardless of his own personal safety, and destroyed a third enemy machine.
Fresh enemy aeroplanes continued to rise from the aerodrome, which he attacked one after another, and only retreated, still engaged with five enemy machines, when ordered to do so by his patrol leader. Although apparently wounded, this very gallant officer turned repeatedly, and attacked single-handed the pursuing machines, until he was eventually overwhelmed by numbers and driven to the ground.
Lt. Jerrard had greatly distinguished himself on four previous occasion, within a period of twenty-three days, in destroying enemy machines, displaying bravery and ability of the very highest order.
—Third Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, Number 30663, at Page 5287
The Victoria Cross is the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry. It is awarded “for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”
Both Captain Carpenter and Lieutenant Eycott-Ross were awarded the Military Cross for their actions on this date. Lieutenant Jerrard was presented the Victoria Cross by George V at Buckingham Palace, 5 April 1919.
Jerrard’s Sopwith Camel had been shot down by Hauptmann Benno Fiala Ritter von Fernbrugg, an Austrian Air Force ace. This was von Fernbrugg’s fourteenth aerial victory.
Alan Jerrard was born 3 December 1897 at Ladywell, Lewisham, southeast London, England. He was the son of Herbert Jerrard, at that time the master of mathematics at St. Dunstan’s College, Catford, London, and Jane Remington Hobbs Jerrard. He attended Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, where his father was now headmaster. He went on to Oundle School in Northamptonshire, then attended the University of Birmingham.
In 1915, Jerrard joined the British Army. He was appointed a cadet with the Birmingham University Contingent, Senior Division, officers Training Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the South Staffordshire Regiment, 2 January 1916.
On 16 August 1916, Second Lieutenant Jerrard transferred to the Royal Flying Corps to be trained as a fighter pilot. He completed flight training 14 June 1917. He received advanced training at London Colney. Jerrard was promoted to lieutenant and was assigned to No. 19 Squadron, 24 July 1917.
Lieutenant Jerrard was flying a SPAD S.VII on his second combat patrol, 2 August 1917, near St. Marie Cappel. He attacked an enemy convoy, but then his engine failed. He crashed and was seriously injured. Rescued by Allied soldiers, he was initially hospitalized in France before being returned to England to recover.
Lieutenant Jerrard was able to return to duty after six months. He joined No. 66 Squadron in Italy, 22 February 1918.
After being shot down on 30 March, Lieutenant Jerrard was held by Austria as a Prisoner of War at Salzburg. He was later able to escape and return to Allied lines.
Lieutenant Jerrard was officially credited with destroying three Albatros D.IIIs on 30 March 1918. In the previous weeks, he had also shot down two Aviatik Berg D.Is, an observation balloon, and another Albatross D.III.
In addition to the Victoria Cross, Lieutenant Jerrard was awarded the Medaglia di bronzo al Valore Militare (Bronze Medal for Military Valor) by the Kingdom of Italy. Imperial Russia awarded him the Imperatorskiy orden Sv. Anny (The Imperial Order of St. Anne, Third Degree, with Swords).
Lieutenant Jerrard remained in the Royal Air Force following the Armistice. He was granted a Permanent Commission as a Flying Officer, effective 1 August 1919. He served with a detachment at Murmansk, Russia, in 1919.
On 1 January 1926, Flying Officer Jerrard was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
In June 1926, Flight Lieutenant Jerrard married Mrs. Eliza M.K. Low (née Eliza Maria Kathleen Woods), in St. Giles, Westminster, London.
Flight Lieutenant Jerrard retired from the Royal Air Force after eighteen years of military service. He was placed on the retired list on account of ill health, 24 August 1933.
Flight Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, V.C., died at Lyme Regis, Devon, 14 May 1968. His ashes were interred at the Uxbridge and Hillingdon Cemetery, Middlesex, along with those of his wife Eliza Maria Kathleen, who had died in 1961.
¹ The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were combined to create the Royal Air Force, 1 April 1918.
Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC, No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps Canada (RFCC) (Royal Canadian Air Force)
1st May, 1918
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers of the Royal Air Force, for services displaying outstanding bravery :— ___________
2nd Lt Alan Arnett McLeod, Royal Air Force
Whilst flying with his observer (Lt. A. W. Hammond, M.C.), attacking hostile formations by bombs and machine-gun fire, he was assailed at a height of 5,000 feet by eight enemy triplanes, which dived at him from all directions, firing from the r front guns. By skilful [sic] maneuvering he enabled his observer to fire bursts at each machine in turn, shooting three of them down out of control. By this time Lt McLeod had received five wounds, and whilst continuing the engagement a bullet penetrated his petrol tank and set the machine on fire.
He then climbed out on to the left bottom plane, controlling his machine from the side of the fuselage, and by side-slipping steeply kept the flames to one side, thus enabling the observer to continue firing until the ground was reached.
The observer had been wounded six times when the machine crashed in “No Man’s Land,” and 2nd Lt McLeod, notwithstanding his own wounds, dragged him away from the burning wreckage at great personal risk from heavy machine-gun fire from the enemy’s lines. This very gallant pilot was again wounded by a bomb whilst engaged in this act of rescue, but he persevered until he had placed Lt. Hammond in comparative safety, before falling himself from exhaustion and loss of blood.
—The London Gazette, Number 30663, Wednesday, 1 May 1918, at Pages 5287 and 5288
Alan Arnett McCleod was born 20 April 1899 in the village of Stonewall, Selkirk, Manitoba, Dominion of Canada. He was the first of two children of Alexander Neil McLeod, M.D., a physician, and Margaret Lillian Arnett McLeod.
After previously being turned away due to his age, Alan McLeod joined the Royal Flying Corps Canada (R.F.C.C.) 20 April 1917—his 18th birthday. He was sent to the University of Toronto for military training, then to Long Branch and Camp Borden for flight training. He was commissioned a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant (on probation), 19 August 1917.
On 20 August 1917, 2nd Lieutenant McLeod boarded the Canadian Pacific passenger liner S.S. Metagama and sailed to Bantry Bay, Ireland. For the next four months McLeod continued to train as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. He then joined No. 2 Squadron on the Western Front.
Following the action of 27 March 1918, Lieutenant McLeod spent a long period of time recovering from his wounds. It was decided to send him home to Canada. On 20 September 1918, he sailed from Southhampton aboard the Cunard liner R.M S. Aquitania. The ship arrived at the Port of New York, 27 September. Lieutenant McLeod then traveled to his home in Stonewall.
On 29 October 1918, Lieutenant McLeod was admitted to Winnipeg General Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, diagnosed with the Spanish Flu, then a worldwide epidemic.
2nd Lieutenant Alan Arnett McCleod, V.C., Royal Air Force, died 6 November 1918. He was just 18 years old.
The Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 was a been designed by Dutch engineer Frederick Koolhoven. It was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane. The F.K.8 was 30 feet, 8 inches (9.347 meters long). Both upper and lower wings had a span of 43 feet, 0 inches (13.106 meters), and chord of 6 feet, 6 inches (1.981 meters). The upper wing area was 270 square feet (25.1 square meters), and the lower, 254 square feet (23.6 square meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, 11 inches (1.803 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 1 foot, 7½ inches (0.495 meters) behind the upper. Both the upper and lower wings had an angle of incidence of 2¼°, no sweep, and 4° dihedral.
The F.K.8 had an empty weight of 1,720 pounds (780 kilograms), and gross weight of 3,000 pounds (1,361 pounds).
The F.K.8 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated 13.937 liter (850.481-cubic-inch-displacement) Beardmore Aero Engine, Ltd., 160-h.p. inline six-cylinder engine with a compression ratio of 4.85:1. The engine was direct drive, and although it was identified as “160 h.p.”, it actually produced 154 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. The engine was 57 inches (1.148 meters) long, 19.9 inches (0.505 meters) wide and 31.9 inches (0.810 meters) high. It weighed 545 pounds (247 kilograms).
The airplane had a maximum speed of 102 miles per hour (164 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 98 miles per hour (158 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). It could climb to 10,000 feet in 20 minutes. Its ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). It carried fuel for 3.75 hours of flight.
The F.K.8 was armed with two machine guns, and carried a wireless apparatus.
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Officers of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of bravery of the highest possible order :—
Capt. (A./Major) William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C., No. 201 Sqn., R.A. Force.
On the morning of 27th October, 1918, this officer observed an enemy two-seater over 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, on 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 with 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.
— The London Gazette, Second Supplement to The London Gazette of FRIDAY, the 29th of NOVEMBER 1918, Number 31042 at Pages 14203, 14204
The Victoria Cross was presented to Major Barker at Buckingham Palace, 1 March 1919. Still recovering from his wounds, Barker could only walk a few paces to receive the medal.
William George Barker is Canada’s most highly-decorated military serviceman. He was born 3 November 1894 at Dauphin, in the Parkland Region of Manitoba, Canada. He was the first of nine children of George William John Barker, a farmer, and Jane Victoria Alguire Barker.
At the opening of World War I, Barker, having previously served with the 32nd Manitoba Horse, enlisted as a trooper with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was trained as a machine gunner and sent to Europe with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His unit fought in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. In early 1917, Barker volunteered as a gunner in the Royal Flying Corps, and after training, was commissioned a second lieutenant. He flew as an observer and gunner aboard a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2. Lieutenant Barker shot down at least two enemy aircraft, and was instrumental in calling artillery fire on massed enemy troops. He and his pilot were awarded the Military Cross.
From December 1916 to February 1917, Lieutenant Barker went through pilot training in England. It is reported that he soloed after less than one hour of instruction. After qualifying as a pilot, he returned to the Continent, serving with No. 15 Squadron. In May 1917, Barker was promoted to the rank of captain and placed in command of one of the squadron’s flights. During this period, Captain Barker was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross (a second award). Barker was wounded in August 1917 and was returned to England to recuperate, then spent some time as a flight instructor. He returned to France in October.
Captain Barker was transferred to 28 Squadron and assigned a Sopwith Camel F.1, B.6313. The squadron was sent to Italy, where Hawker engaged in attacking balloons and enemy facilities. He was promoted to major and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and a second bar to his Military Cross (a third award).
In the battle in which he earned the Victoria Cross, 27 October 1918, Barker was flying a Sopwith Snipe F7.1, E8102. He was very seriously wounded. In addition to the decorations of the United Kingdom, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre of France, and Italy’s Medaglia d’Argento al Valore Militare.
Barker flew more than 900 hours in combat during World War I. He is officially credited with destroying 50 enemy aircraft, including 9 balloons. All but the last four enemy airplanes were destroyed while flying B6313, his personal Sopwith Camel. (B6313 shot down more aircraft than any other fighter in history.)
Returning to Canada at the end of the War, he and fellow Canadian ace Billy Bishop formed Bishop-Barker Company, Ltd., and then Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes, a charter, aircraft sales and maintenance company.
William Barker married Miss Jean Bruce Kilbourn Smith, 1 June 1921, at Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They had one daughter, Jean Antoinette Barker.
Billy Barker returned to military service with the newly-formed Canadian Air Force and was commissioned a wing commander. He was assigned to command Camp Borden Air Station. In 1924, Wing Commander Barker was assigned as Acting Director, the highest position in the C.A.F., until the creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Barker was then assigned as a liaison officer to the Royal Air Force. He attended the Royal Air Force Staff College from May 1925 to March 1926. Barker resigned from the R.C.A.F. in 1926, refusing to serve under an officer he did not respect.
After leaving the military service, Barker worked at several positions, including the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. In 1930, he joined Fairchild Aircraft as a vice-president.
On 12 March 1930, while demonstrating a Fairchild KR-21, CF-AKR (s/n 1021) at Rockcliffe Air Station near Ottawa, Ontario, the airplane went out of control and crashed onto the ice-bound Ottawa River. William George Barker was killed. He was just 35 years old.
Following a state funeral, the body of Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Canadian Air Force, was interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. More than 50,000 people lined the streets leading to the cemetery.
The Sopwith Snipe 7F.1 was a single-engine, two-bay biplane designed by Herbert Smith to replace the Sopwith Camel F.1. Fifteen Snipes were sent to France in August 1918 for evaluation. William Barker selected one of these, E8102, as his personal airplane. The Snipe was 19 feet, 10 inches (6.045 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 1 inch (9.474 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 6 inches ( meters). It had an empty weight of 1,312 pounds (595 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,020 pounds (916 kilograms).
The Snipe was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 24.938 liter (1,521.808 cubic-inch-displacement) Bentley BR.2 nine-cylinder rotary engine, manufactured by Humber, Ltd., Coventry, England. The engine had a compression ratio of 5.2:1 and was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m.
The Snipe had a maximum speed of 121 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and a service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).
The fighter was armed with two Vickers .303 Mk.I machine guns synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.