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Joseph Barber – The 43 Year Old Air Gunner

by Frank Barber

Joseph Barber RAF portrait.

There are many stories of young men (many still boys really) who lied about their ages to gain entry into the air force. This chronicle is about a man who was told he was too old to fly but lied about his age so that he could join the Royal Air Force. Bomber Command airmen in their mid-twenties were often referred to as “old men” and “grandpa” by the vast majority of aircrew who were in their late teens or early twenties. Someone in their early forties must have seemed absolutely ancient to them. But Joseph Barber was determined to serve.

On August 22, 2008, our museum’s Lancaster was outside on the tarmac for an engine run. Frank Barber and his wife from London, Ontario were passing by on holidays and stopped at the museum. Frank was thrilled when he found that he was able to enter the bomber and spend some special time at the mid-upper gunner’s position. Later, he told us his father’s story and after he returned to London, sent us the following written version.

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My father, Joseph Barber, was born in 1901(day and month unknown) in Sunderland, County Durham, England. I am the youngest of his three children and was born in 1930.

At the beginning of the Second World War my Father was turned down from volunteering for the military because of his trade as a bricklayer, and also because of his age. He volunteered numerous times after that, to no avail. Finally one day, in frustration, he took out his Birth Certificate and, as I watched and clearly remember, folded it repeatedly -back and forth, so that eventually the date of birth could no longer be read.

Then he volunteered again and was accepted into the Royal Air Force for training as an Air Gunner. After training he flew in Lancasters and the odd raid in Halifaxes. His rank was Sergeant, Air Gunner. According to his logbook, he had completed seventeen operations when his aircraft failed to return from a raid on Duisburg on the night of 21/22 May, 1944.

I was thirteen at the time, and the biggest regret of my life is that I was unable to grow up under his guidance. He is buried in a Commonwealth Cemetery in Antwerpen (Antwerp) in Belgium, where my wife and I visited last year. There were five other graves, owing to the fact that the Flight Engineer managed to get out of the doomed Lancaster as it went down.

Incidentally, because of my Father’s service in the RAF, I learned to fly in 1970 and for a short time I flew a Cessna 172.

Thank you again for the privilege of being allowed to enter the Lancaster bomber in Nanton. I will never forget this chance encounter as we passed through your town on vacation.

*Sgt. Barber and crew were flying Lancaster ME-677 (marked “HW-X”) with No. 100 Squadron RAF when they were lost on 22 May, 1944. They had taken off from RAF Grimsby at 22:34 and were last plotted at 00:47. The reason for the aircraft going down and the location of the crash site are not known.

The crewmembers killed were: W/O A.R. Oxenham (pilot); Sgt. D.J. Fuller; Sgt. E. Blackburn; Sgt. G.F. Pearse; and Sgt. D.A. Goggin. F/S H. Goodall survived but was confined to hospital because of his injuries. He is listed as a Prisoner of War but apparently was never issued a “POW Number.” None of the crew were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Frank Barber at the museum in 2008.