Posted November 10, 2014
My family’s war started before I was born.
My father, Francis Cecil Barker, served in the Canadian Army in France and Siberia in World War I.
Of my Father’s four brothers and sisters, John Sydney Barker and Thomas Mitchell Barker were killed in action in World War I. Their sister, Gladys Elinor Barker, served as a nursing sister in France.
I was named after my late uncles, John and Thomas. I never knew their father, and my grandfather, Francis Fletcher Barker, who died a year before I was born. I have fond memories of my paternal grandmother, Letitia Drought Barker, who bought me my first wagon during the dark days of the depression.
When World War II started in 1939, my father was working for Chrysler as a zone manager. Canada became the arsenal for supplying British forces. Commercial vehicle production in Canada ceased and was quickly converted to producing trucks, weapons and aircraft. My father was reassigned as a purchasing agent of parts for the 25-pounder field gun being assembled in Sorel, Quebec. He passed away in the fall of 1941 just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Meanwhile, my two male cousins Langford Barker, son of John Barker, and Harold Pickering, son of my aunt Mildred Barker Holt enlisted. Langford was wounded in action in France. Harold was an aircraft mechanic working in the advance fighter bases in France following the D-Day invasion.
My brother Peter switched from his mechanical engineering course at the University of Toronto and joined the navy posted aboard the HMCS Hespeler, a minesweeper assigned to the Pacific theatre.
Both my mother, Dorothy and her mother, Bertha Louise Stavert, worked for the YWCA War Services assigned to 14 Service Flying Training School (RCAF), part of the Commonwealth Air Training Program, in Aylmer, Ontario. Later they were transferred to Ottawa to work with the Women’s Naval Services known as the WRENS who were engaged in coded convoy communications oin the Atlantic.
The two of them were surrogate mothers to young men and women from all parts of the Commonwealth and the U.S.
In 1942, my aunt Gladys invited me to spend the summer on her farm in Byron, outside of London. My aunt and her husband Jasper, were childless and that summer she took me out in her car and taught me how to drive. I was 12-years old. She also taught me how to ride their horse, a single–minded beast, which would get 400 metres away from the barn and then trot back. It was one of the best summers I can remember.
In 1944, I contracted a massive infection that nearly cost me my life. I was in a coma for two weeks in the Hospital for Sick Children on College Street in Toronto in the quarantine ward. My life was saved by Penicillin administered intravenously into my lower legs.
I remember my mother talking to me from a fire escape outside my window, as she could not come in the quarantine area. I was in hospital for almost two months.
In 1947, at 17, I enlisted in the Queen’s York Rangers, 1st Americans, an armoured regiment as a trooper. Although I was still in high school, I enjoyed the role of a soldier in the Rangers, the York County Regiment. We trained on Sherman tanks and other vehicles that were located in the Aurora Armoury and conducted firing practices at the Meaford Tank Range.
In 1949, I was invited to obtain my commission and in the fall of 1950 was posted to train at the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School in Base Borden. I was awarded my commission as lieutenant in 1951. Following service with the regular forces I was returned to my unit.
My cousin Diana Corner who is 83, my brother Peter who is 91, cousin Harold who is 93 and me, who has reached 84, are the last of our generation.
It is fitting that we always remember all those who have fallen in combat, those who have served their country including many fallen comrades I have known in my own military service.
They were a band of brothers and sisters who will never be forgotten. At this 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, let us not forget their deeds and dedication.