Fl/Lt. Ralph Barker
Fl/Lt. Ralph Barker
Born: October 21st 1917 in Feltham, Middlesex. Died: May 16th 2011 Age 93.
Wireless operator and air gunner during the Second World War.
Also author of many fine books regarding aviation and his passion cricket.
Ralph Barker, served as a wireless operator and air gunner during the Second World War, surviving many hazardous anti-shipping operations in the Mediterranean theatre; he later became noted for his books about aviation and cricket.
After completing his training in 1941 Barker joined a Beaufort torpedo bomber squadron, flying from Scotland, but was soon posted to the Middle East with No’s 47 and 39 Squadrons.
Flying from airfields on Malta and North African desert landing strips, it was the task of these squadrons to sink the Axis ships supplying Rommel’s Panzers in the Western Desert.
They were highly dangerous missions, and losses among the Beauforts were high.
Barker flew on many of these operations, but his career attacking convoys and their powerful escorts was terminated by a crash in which his pilot and navigator were killed. He returned to Britain, ending the war flying transport aircraft.
Ralph Hammond Cecil Barker was born at Feltham, Middlesex, on October 21 1917 and educated at Hounslow College.
He joined the staff of the Sporting Life in 1934 but later went into banking.
Meanwhile, he had begun writing, and several of his sketches were performed at the Windmill Theatre, some of them in the early years of the war.
After leaving the RAF in 1946, Barker returned to banking; but two years later he rejoined the Service as an administrative officer specialising in public relations.
In December 1948 he moved to R.A.F. Headquarters in Germany and was later based at Lubeck airfield to cover the Berlin Airlift.
After two years broadcasting with the British Forces Network, Hamburg, he left Germany in 1952 for the Air Ministry; for two years he prepared official war records at the Air Historical Branch. He later saw service in the Persian Gulf and Aden on intelligence and PR duties.
By the time he retired from the R.A.F. as a flight lieutenant in April 1961, Barker had already begun to establish himself as a serious author on R.A.F. subjects.
His first book, published in 1955, was Down in the Drink, this was followed by The Ship Busters (1957), an authoritative work in which he drew on his own experience of wartime operations. A succession of aviation books followed, among them The Schneider Trophy and Torpedo Bomber.
Barker’s other great passion was cricket.
An accomplished player himself, he turned out regularly for the R.A.F’s Adastrians team, and for a number of years he captained West Surrey.
His first book about cricket, Ten Great Innings, came out in 1964 and was followed three years later by Ten Great Bowlers.
Reviewing the second of these, the broadcaster John Arlott described Barker as “a master of the reconstruction of past cricket matches”.
Barker’s most substantial book on the game is a history of the Test matches between England and Australia, published in 1969. It includes a report of every match and a summary of every Ashes series.
He later wrote a further three books on cricket.
At the same time, Barker continued to write about aviation, and in 1982 turned his attention to the exploits of the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War, producing four books on the subject which are regarded as some of the most important reference works for that period of the R.A.F’s history. His last book, Men of the Bombers, about the Second World War, came out in 2005.
Ralph Barker, who died on May 16, married, in 1947, Joan Harris. She died in 1993, and two years later he married Diana Darvey, who also predeceased him. He is survived by a daughter of his first marriage.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard of the Spixworthonian Language School.