He’s one of Canada’s most decorated war veterans. This Toronto school is making sure he isn’t forgotten

TORONTO — He is the most decorated war hero in Canadian history, but few know his name.

Wing Commander Willam Barker, a pilot known as the best ace in the First World War. 

“If you fought against William Barker in combat, you were very likely to be shot down and you were rather likely to die,” says Wayne Ralph, author of the book ‘Barker VC: Canada’s Decorated War Hero.’

Barker grew up on a farm in Manitoba, joining the army in 1914 as a machine gunner and learning to fly during the war. 

War photo

Once he was in the sky, Barker set a record of 46 enemy aircraft shot down. 

Outside Hodgeson Middle School in Toronto on Thursday, Grade 7 student Jerimiah Sankar said, “I think, William Barker to me, he’s a hero.”

Sankar, along with Grade 8 students Henry Lane and Ava Kassam, have been researching Barker as part of a project to make sure war heroes like him are not forgotten.

They say certain characteristics stick out to them. 

“How hard he fought,” says Lane. “For his country, for the people of Canada. He never gave up, even at the hardest times.”

Kassam adding, “He also won a dog fight that most would think impossible.”

That dog fight was on Oct. 27, 1918, just days before the end of the war. 

“Barker was attacked by a large formation of German aircraft, and in the course of that battle he was severely wounded and managed to drive down, or shoot down, a total of four enemy aircraft,” says Ralph.

Barker was wounded in the battle and nearly died. Afterwards he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest honour possible. Just one of 11 medals he received.

Barker gained fame in post-war Canada. 


He wouldn’t live to an old age. Barker died in 1930 in a plane crash in Ottawa and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.

The tomb was owned by his wife’s family, and Barkers name did not appear. After his death, his name started to fade from public consciousness. 

In 2011, a marker was placed outside his resting place, marking the most decorated war hero in the history of the British Empire. 

His legacy apparent in those who were influenced by Barker. 

“If you’d asked Billy Bishop who his hero was, he would have said William Barker,” Ralph said. 

While Ava Kassam, who is just learning about Barker said: “I think it’s really amazing because he’s Canadian so he’s really important to everyone here.”

Putting a face to the memory of those who served.

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