By Gerry Barker
November 11. 2019
Remembering my two uncles – John Sydney Barker and Thomas Mitchell Barker killed in action in 1916 and 1918.
They were my father’s brothers, John the oldest and Thomas the youngest. My father Francis Cecil Barker and my aunt Gladys Barker, also served in the first world war.
I was a teenager during World War 2 and never knew John or Thomas whose names I now carry with respect and honour.
When I was 12 in 1942, I spent part of my summer with aunt Gladys and uncle Jaspser at their farm in Byron, outside London. Aunt Gladys decided it was time for me to drive a car. After a few lessons I learned to shift gears, use the clutch and brakes. Then aunt Gladys decided I was ready to solo and away I went using the country roads.
Aunt Gladys never had any children. So my cousin Diana and I were the designated surrogates and were spoiled purple. Those summers will never be forgotten.
My aunt and uncle had a horse on their country home and aunt Gladys helped me saddle the horse and, after a couple of trots, around the property, I set out to visit my friends up the road. Everything was going great until the horse decided to head back home and there was nothing I could do to persuade the horse to take me to visit my friend.
Keep in mind, at age 12, horse gender recognition had not developed. A horse is a horse, of course it’s a horse.
That’s when I learned that you can lead a horse to water but I learned the relationship ended there.
My father passed away in 1941 and I was shipped off to Appleby College. My mother and grandmother were engaged in war services operated by the YWCA, They were posted to #14 Service Flying Training School outside of Aylmer. Their job was to serve light snacks, mend uniforms and counsel the never ending parade of aspiring young pilots.
These were 18 and 19 year old boys from all over the commonwealth. I was able to spend part of my summers there and was made an honourary Service Policeman whose job was to raise and lower the bar across the entrance to the base. I was issued with a pith helmet and SP armband.
One day, a a group pf British sailors arrived to complete their flight training. Their uniforms were worn out and my mother and grandmother were kept busy mending the uniforms. One of them was Johnny Johnston who would sit down and talk to me about his life as a sailor. I asked him how he knew how to properly wear his hat. He flipped it over and showed me the lining. On one side was a red strip and on the other a green one. See, he said, red is for port and, green for starboard.
That was my first introduction to seafaring. Upon graduation, he gave me that hat and I treasured it for some time.
A few months later he received his wings and was posted to the Fleet Air Arm. We later learned he was killed in action, attacking the German Bismark battleship.
I was attending Aurora high school in 1947 when I joined the Queen’s York Rangers, 1st American Regiment, 25th Armoured Regiment as a Trooper. The unit was the York County Regiment, based in Fort York Armoury in Toronto and Aurora.
The Aurora group were known as Charlie Squadron and we were issued with two brand new General Sherman tanks and two Canadian-built Grizzly tanks powered by circular aircraft engines. We also received a General Stuart Honey light tank powered by twin Cadillac engines and Hydromatic drive. It was used during the war as a recconaisance tank attached to an armoured regiment.
I obtained my commission as a First Lieutenant in 1951 at the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School in Camp Borden and the Meaford tank range.
As part of celebrating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, I was assigned to drive the Honey tank to York Township from Aurora escorted by the Ontario Provincial Police.
Just north of Richmond Hill traveling on Highway 11, the police waved us down. The officer approached and asked me if I knew how fast we were going. It was 55 MPH. He asked how fast will it go? I said, “we haven’t tried that yet..”
At the end of the day, we gassed up the tank from Jerry cans and headed for home escorted by police.
I served for nine years including active and reserve service. My civilian job as a reporter photographer with the Toronto Star made it difficult to attend parades and training exercises. I retired to the supplementary reserve
In 2006 my Ranger comrade Captain (retired) Peter Styrmo, invited me to join the Ranger Officer’s Association. From there I joined the Regimental Council.
I was appointed chairman of the finance committee. In 2018, I retired from the Council. They were years of great accomplishments and fellowship. It was part of preserving the 250-year history pf the oldest regiment in the Canadian order of battle.
It has been a part of my life that I will never forget.
And so, it’s time to fade away with wonderful military life experiences.
Most of all today is a day of pausing to remember those who fought for us and paid the supreme sacrifice.