Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barker, Harold James (1913–1969)

by Don Charlwood

This article was published:

Harold James Barker (1913-1969), by unknown photographer

Harold James Barker (1913-1969), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, UK0439

Harold James Barker (1913-1969), air force officer, was born on 29 November 1913 at Gayndah, Queensland, third child of James Frederick Barker, crown lands ranger, and his wife Mary Christina, née Barth, both Queenslanders. Having served in the South African War and World War I, James remained in the Australian Military Forces as a Militia officer and retired in 1931 as an honorary lieutenant colonel. Harold was educated at South State and at the Christian Brothers' Sacred Heart Boys' High schools, Bundaberg. He worked in a local menswear store and soldiered part time (1931-34 and 1939-41) in the 47th Battalion of the Militia, attaining the rank of sergeant. Accepted for aircrew training, he enlisted in the Citizen Air Force of the Royal Australian Air Force on 2 March 1941; he gave his religion as Anglican and listed his recreations as sailing, surfing and hockey. Of middle height and slim build, he had blue eyes, a dark complexion and brown hair.

In September 'Tib' Barker was sent to Canada for observer training. Drawn to him by his bearing, self-possession and air of genial authority, his forty-two fellow trainees unanimously voted him course leader, a decision they were never to regret. He was commissioned on 4 April 1942 and in June navigated a Hudson aircraft to England where he began operational training with the Royal Air Force's Bomber Command. In November he joined No.467 Squadron, R.A.A.F., as a Lancaster navigator. Between February and July 1943 he completed twenty-five operations, attacking targets in Germany and Italy. His skill and determination enabled his crew to obtain excellent night-photographs of heavily defended enemy territory. For the initiative, keenness and courage he displayed throughout this tour, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 13 August.

After training in two-seater Mosquito aircraft, Barker was posted on 11 February 1944 to No.139 (Jamaica) Squadron, R.A.F. This squadron was a unit of Pathfinder Force, an elite group which improved the accuracy of night-attacks by locating and illuminating targets for the main formation of bombers. Initially, he and his pilot flew sorties over Europe as target-markers, a task that required the most precise navigation. Promoted acting squadron leader on 7 August 1944, Barker subsequently crewed with a pilot whose role was master-bomber; they directed attacks on a wide range of enemy targets. Barker's proficiency during sixty-five Mosquito operations—including fifteen over Berlin—together with his enthusiasm and devotion to duty led to the award of a Bar to his D.F.C. Returning to Australia in June 1945, he was demobilized in October. On 19 January 1946 in St Andrew's Anglican Church, Lutwyche, Brisbane, he married a hairdresser Edna McMillen Christie; they lived at Collaroy, Sydney.

In 1946-54 Barker flew with Qantas Empire Airways Ltd, navigating Lancastrians, Short 525 (Hythe) flying boats, Constellations and Douglas DC4s. He resigned to become proprietor of Dee Why Footwear in Sydney, but rejoined Qantas in 1965 and was later a recruitment officer in the airline's cadet-pilot scheme. While playing golf at Long Reef, Barker suffered a coronary occlusion and died on 1 March 1969 at Mona Vale District Hospital. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Herington, Air War Against Germany and Italy 1939-1943 (Canb, 1954)
  • J. Herington, Air Power over Europe 1944-1945 (Canb, 1963)
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

Don Charlwood, 'Barker, Harold James (1913–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 3 February 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Harold James Barker (1913-1969), by unknown photographer

Harold James Barker (1913-1969), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, UK0439