29 May 2011

Vale Ralph Barker

It was with considerable sadness that I discovered the passing of this well-known author yesterday. He died on May 16 but it has taken more than 10 days for me to realise. I hope this has not been the case for everyone else.

A wartime Wireless Operator/Air Gunner on Beauforts (and others?), he is best known for his prolific writing on, primarily, RAF and RFC wartime flying. Before leaving the RAF in 1961 to write full-time, Barker already had several books to his credit including the perennial Down In The Drink and The Ship-Busters (both of which have recently had new editions released). His aviation books of the 1960s and '70s continue to be well-regarded and, in the case of The Hurricats for example, remain authoritative works on particularly rare and 'difficult' subjects.

As discussed in The Ship-Busters review earlier, Barker's ability to put a face to the many names featured in his books paralleled that of a top fiction writer and made the men - and women - featured leap off the page. Rather than simply recounting the actions the aircrew made famous, the books provide windows into the lives of those who risked all or were in peril.

With Ralph Barker's passing we of course lose another veteran. Another living link to a past that still resonates today. How long it stays that way depends on what later generations do to commemorate World War 2. With books such as Barker's, that job is made easier for, as long as people continue to read his work, the stories of the men and women he wrote about will remain alive.


  1. Have just found this posting. In 2002 I was lucky enough to meet Ralph whilst working on a book about aviatrixes of the first half of the 20th C. Ralph had written brilliantly about Jessie 'Chubbie' Miller and was happy not only to share his research material with me but also to pass on his impressions of that remarkable woman. We shared a number of lunches at his favourite pub and Ralph was always a brilliant companion who passed on his great knowledge of aviation and journalism with a grace and wit I shall always remember - and certainly learnt from. He achieved a great age and left behind with us a great legacy. A good man to have known! Mike Walker

  2. Hi Mike

    Thanks for sharing your memory of the great Ralph Barker. I had often wondered about his wartime service as I knew little beyond the fact he flew on Beaufort ops. The recent obituary sadly filled in the gaps in that respect but I appreciate your comments regarding the character and generosity of the man.

    Fine memories to have, mate.