Call to honour hero beheaded by Japanese

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Airman Ivor Barker was one of the unsung heroes of the Second World War who played his part in defeating the Japanese in the Pacific.

The 21-year-old air gunner in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm flew many sorties before a fateful mission in January 1945, when he fell into enemy hands during a raid on oil refineries at Palembang, on Sumatra.

His Avenger Mk II bomber was shot down and crash landed in the jungle. Along with other captured airmen, Petty Officer Barker was interrogated and imprisoned.

But he did not survive to celebrate the end of the war. He, along with a group of airmen known as the Pelembang Nine, were driven to a beach and beheaded after the Japanese surrender and just two days before the camp was liberated.

To cover up the war crime, they were taken out in a boat, weighed down and their bodies thrown into the Pacific.

Now a niece of Petty Officer Barker is campaigning for his name to be finally added to a war memorial and a plaque in the library of his old grammar school in his home city of Sheffield.

Sandra Smith discovered the story of her uncle’s bravery and his horrific murder when she began researching her family’s history.

“It’s sad, really,” said Mrs Smith, 69, “but my grandmother Minnie refused to be believe her son was dead although she had received a telegram saying he was missing presumed killed.

“Because his body had never been found she lived in the hope that one day he would walk through the door and she still believed that 40 years later when she died.

“He was born in Gleadless in Sheffield but his name is not inscribed on the war memorial there and it’s not on the plaque of old boys killed in the two wars which is in the library at High Storrs School.

“My grandmother didn’t want to believe he was dead and contacting those responsible for having his name inscribed on the memorials would only confirm what I think she secretly knew was the truth.”

After leaving school, Ivor Barker worked for a gentlemen’s outfitters in Sheffield and later as a transport contractor before joining up.

He trained in Winchester before being posted to the Pacific Fleet in 1942 as a member of 849 Squadron on board the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious.

The fate of the nine was shrouded in mystery at the end of the war. Initial reports said that the prisoners were missing after the ship taking them to Japan from Singapore had been sunk by Allied air bombing in the middle of March 1945.

But the truth was finally revealed by a General Atsuka, who was Chief of the Judicial Department of the 7th Area Army, Singapore.

Petty Officer Barker’s name is inscribed on a memorial at St Bartholomew’s Church in Yeovilton, where the Fleet Air Arm museum is based, and a naval memorial at Lee-on-Solent.

Mrs Smith, from Dereham, Norfolk, added: “The war in the Pacific has often been referred to as the forgotten war compared to Europe.

“I think it would be fitting if his name could be added to the memorial in his home city and at his old school. If his mother was alive today she would be so proud to see that happen.”

A spokeswoman for Sheffield Council said it was looking into a request for Petty Officer Barker’s name to be finally honoured.