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Pictou County man discovers family connection was part of elite Second World War squadron

Jimmy Barber, who grew up in Lansdowne Station and died during the Second World War, was part of an elite squadron.
Jimmy Barber, who grew up in Lansdowne Station and died during the Second World War, was part of an elite squadron. - Contributed

There were secrets about Jimmy Barber even his closest family members never knew.

Thanks to an old logbook, a family connection has unravelled a bit of the secretive last days of this farm boy from Lansdowne Station, Pictou County, who went to fight the Germans during the Second World War.

Brad MacKay is a commercial pilot. He’s flown primarily civilian aircraft: bush planes and skydiving planes. It was this love of planes that prompted Barber’s sister Doris to give him her brother’s old logbook.

While they weren’t directly blood-related, MacKay explains, there is a family connection. His great-grandmother took in Jimmy and Doris after their mother, who immigrated to Lansdowne Station from England with her husband, died. Their father had to leave his work so MacKay’s great-grandmother adopted the two children.

“I had always heard about (Jimmy) because his sister was my great-aunt,” MacKay said.

Jimmy Barber was part of the crew on a Lancaster Bomber like this. - Contributed
Jimmy Barber was part of the crew on a Lancaster Bomber like this. - Contributed

He was told that Barber was a pilot and was cross-trained as a bomber.

“(Doris) was the last surviving member of her family and I’m the only one that had aviation interest that was close to her,” he said, explaining why she gave him the logbook. “She knew I’d take care of it.”

Logbooks, MacKay explains, are essentially a pilot’s journal. They give the dates, times and routes of flight, and also include general remarks about what happened during the flight. From a first glance years ago, MacKay was able to share a bit with Doris about how Jimmy was on a Lancaster bomber and some of the places he visited. But it wasn’t until recently that he thought about taking the time to do a search on the internet for the unit that Barber was part of.

Jimmy Barber's logbook was sent back to his sister after his death. - Contributed
Jimmy Barber's logbook was sent back to his sister after his death. - Contributed

When he typed the squadron number in Google and was shocked by what he read.

Barber was a member of the 101 Squadron at Ludford Magna, which so happens to have been involved in many top-secret operations.

“They were a specialized, highly-classified squadron of the RAF,” MacKay said.

These crews took part in night flying missions with Lancasters which were specially equipped with jamming devices. They are now known to have carried a German-speaking crew member. This person would operate radio jamming equipment to interrupt German fighter controllers' broadcasts and spread disinformation. All this happening while the Lancasters were still carrying bombs to drop.

These jamming and disinformation techniques made the aircraft vulnerable to attacks because it required them to break radio silence. As a result, the 101 had the highest casualty rate of any RAF squadron. Barber was killed on his fifth mission at the age of 20 on May 25, 1944. He and seven other members of the crew are buried in the Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany.

Much of their work was classified until recent years, so MacKay said it’s unlikely that Doris would have known about what an elite squadron her brother was a part of. He assumes that anything classified would have been kept before the logbook and other personal belongings were sent back to Doris. But, with the logbook, MacKay has a glimpse of the elite work Barber was involved in.

MacKay recently shared a bit bout the logbook and paid tribute to Barber with a post on Facebook.

“Thanks for your service Mr. Barber. RIP. For a farm boy from Lansdowne, you had a short but intriguing, adventurous life.”

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