William H. Barker

William H. Barker was interviewed by Mary Giles in 1976. He spoke about his childhood and education, time in the military, and hobbies.

I was born in Fall River in 1913; I spent all my summers in Westport all my life. I claim to have been swimming at the Westport Harbor beach long before people, whom I now see down there, but it’s a fact that I have been swimming down there for the last 63 years. This is at Elephant Rock Beach Club at the Harbor. My early connection with Westport was almost entirely oriented around Westport Harbor.


We came down after school every year. There were four children in the family and we had a house that belonged to my uncle William B. Haws, where we lived each and every summer, and one of the earliest things that I can recall, is that we didn’t have electricity in those days and every night we’d light the kerosene lamps. A vivid memory is of going to bed and picking up a candle in a candleholder on the landing and that was all the light we had.


In those days we were fortunate in having a good friend of my mother’s who came and spent a long time with us, and I can remember having delightful, long reading sessions with her. She read aloud to a group of us. Bord(en) Tripp is older than I am; he was sort of one of the heroes we looked up to. He was a football player at Harvard. I went to Williams. My son also is at Williams.


I came summers up until 1950, not every summer during the latter years. In 1950, we bought our house on Cornell Road. The house is just about half way between Main Road and Adamsville Road and it belonged to the Cornell family. It was part of the Cornell Farm. It is the southern half of the old farm—there is about 28 acres of land that goes down to the river with a wonderful view. Jim Howard is my closest neighbor almost across the road. We’re personally delighted that Jim is going to be closer to us now that he’s retired from Blair (Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey) and we’re looking forward to his company.


We still have our church affiliations in Fall River, the same church where my wife has been a member all of her life.


I attended the public school system in Fall River up through my sophomore year in high school, then, it became apparent that if I didn’t have better training, I was never going to be able to go to college, and I was fortunate to be able to go to Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut. It’s a fine school, and from there I went to Williams College. Williams and Amherst are very close—they are like your brother—there’s rivalry at the football games, but when the game is over, it’s all forgotten.


I would consider myself more athletic than scholarly. I’ve always sailed, fished, swam—at that time, the Acoaxet Golf Club was just being made and when it became playable, we were young and we used to caddy there and got into playing and used to play a lot of golf. I’ve had an injury to my back, which has prevented me from doing any of those things, so I don’t play golf any more. I have always been a reader.


During the war, I was in the Field Artillery and I read every paperback I could be my hands on. That’s a time when you hurry up and do nothing. I can remember being surprised at how few of the men that I knew read anything. One probably should expect it. I was drafted through a series of blunders on my part. So after having spent most of my life around the water, I was interested in the Navy, and so I went down one day to enlist in the Navy, but the recruiting officer said—(At that time you could go in the Army for one year—the Navy had no such program)—the recruiting officer said, ‘Are you really interested I this?’ I replied, ‘No, not really.’ So he said, ‘If I was you, I’d take a chance on the Army for one year, because if you join the Navy, it’s going to be for three years,” and he added, ‘I’ll tell you this, this is not a Sunday School picnic.’ So I was drafted into the Army and was in it for five years!


I had quite an experience. I started off at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod and I thought that was fine. From there I went to Texas to the Officers’ Candidate School and stayed some time in Texas. I arrived in the First Cavalry Division and from there we went to Australia, the Philippines, Japan and home again. The Division that I was connected with was the one that went with McArthur. I was in battle a lot of the time. We saw a lot of combat service. A lot of the time I didn’t think I was going to be here.


I got married in 1941—that was while I was in the Army. My oldest son was born in 1942 and I didn’t see him until he was 2 ½ years old. And, I got hundreds of pictures of this fat baby, and they all looked the same. The one thing I did get, which was amusing was a paper cutout by a child—a life-size cutout—this was my baby. Getting acquainted was a gradual process. He’d always turn to his mother for comfort, and it was hard on both of us. I have two sons. I know that first sons and fathers have a difficult time. I’m very careful—I’ve learned—I’m very careful not to tell him, this is the way we did it. I’m sure we’re not always right. Now I have a fine relationship with my oldest son.


Now I sail and swim and fish—as far as those activities are concerned, I’m limited and it’s probably a good thing in many ways. My interest has been in people. My main thrust has been with the United Way in Fall River, and I’m sure that this is an obligation we all have to our fellow man, and I’m very sure that it’s something we all should participate in and I’ve been happy to do it. For me, it means all kinds of people—oh yes—all races, creeds. Helping provide the things that people need to make their life better and can’t acquire themselves. I think that’s what I’m concerned about.


I saw a lot of the world at the expense of Uncle Sam, and I think I was reasonably open-minded and I never found a place that I liked better than this. I think that basically my associates and I have basic concerns. Personally, I think I’m less social than many of my friends. I like to be alone. I can be very happy just by myself.


As I think about Westport, I regret the invasion of a large body of people. I like the open country—yet, on the other hand, I like to see other people enjoy the things that I enjoy. It’s a terrible conflict. I love to see the people on the beach on Sunday, having a good time. It’s a tremendous source of pleasure for many, many people and I like that too. It depends on what you mean by open space. Go back to the pioneers and when they had a neighbor within five miles that was too close—they had to move and go further west.


I think this town is basically sound and that there are enough of the people concerned with the town’s welfare and its natural beauties that we just have to be aware of what is going on, and we can continue to enjoy this part of the country.


Whether we are getting too large for a Town Meeting form of government is a very real problem, but in Dartmouth, where I understand they have the representatives of the various areas to attend the meetings—that they don’t go—the representatives don’t go to the meetings after they have been elected. I do think it’s unfortunate that a vociferous minority can cause certain laws to be passed in any town, which are not good. I’ve seen it happen in our Town Meeting. For instance, the Finance Board recommended that lights be put on telephone poles and just for the fun of it, people shot it down—ridiculous—and this is one of the failings of the Town Meeting system.