Photographic memories: Former Whidbey resident Malcolm Barker’s World War II era photographs captured life on the island and beyond


As a young Naval officer in World War II, Malcolm Barker’s main duties involved serving as a flight officer in a PB4Y-2 Privateers.

It’s his second role for the Navy that put his name in a museum.

Just after he arrived at his first duty station at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, his boss handed him an aerial photography camera, a Fairchild K-20.

With it, he took photos over Whidbey Island from the belly of a plane. He also captured more personal portraits of his petite redhead wife, Doris, around town. His photos are a rare window into life in North Whidbey during the war.

U.S. Navy retired flight officer Malcolm Barker took this picture of Ault Field in 1946. Photography was a second job for him, but he ended up capturing rare photos of early Oak Harbor.

Barker didn’t know much about photography and he doesn’t recall anyone teaching him. But the camera was a good one with a simple no focus shutter speed.

“You just aimed and wound,” he said.

The PBY Naval Air Museum in Oak Harbor and the NASWI Heritage Center on the Seaplane Base both plan to showcase the photos in the future. The PBY museum will incorporate them into existing exhibits and Barker’s photos will be displayed on the Seaplane Base as its own collection.

The couple recently visited their old duty station and met with base commander Capt. Michael Nortier.

Barker and his wife Doris met in high school in Bruceville, Indiana. With war looming, Barker decided it would be best to join the Navy.

“The war was not going well and most of the boys were being drafted at age 18,” he said. “If drafted, choice of service was often not available.”

After high school graduation, the Navy sent Barker to college for a year before then sending them to navigation training. He received his commission in 1945 and proceeded to NAS Banana River, Florida for radar bomb training and then NAS Master Field in Miami for operational training in the PB4Y-2 Privateers.

He received orders to San Diego, expecting orders to the South Pacific. Instead, he ended up receiving orders to Whidbey Island.

The couple were both 20 years old when they arrived here in the start of 1946.

Doris and Malcolm Barker came to Oak Harbor as newlyweds at age 20. Their first apartment was blocks away from the Garry Oak that used to stand in front of the post office.

There was no military housing for married couples yet, so they found an apartment near where the Post Office is located now. They shared a bathroom with their neighbors and had a wood stove for cooking and heating.

“We were thankful for the co-op store, which had most necessary items, and for the ice cream down the street,” he said. “There was a theater and ‘sick bay’ at the Seaplane Base, all within walking distance except for Ault Field.”

Later, they would live in a Quonset hut for a month before moving into new married housing at Ault Field.

“It was real cozy in there,” Doris Barker said of the hut.

Supplies were few during wartime. Doris Barker felt lucky when the shopkeeper at the co-op found her a forgotten ball of yarn under the counter so she could do some crafting.

While in Oak Harbor, Barker was deployed to Kodiak, Alaska, where they went searching for  a ship in distress. Some of his photos include that trip.

Barker left active duty at the end of 1946 and served in the reserves until 1954. He went to electrical school in Chicago and later retired from Alcoa in 1991.

The Barkers now live in Nolensville, Tenn. But they’ve made many trips back to visit Oak Harbor.

“Whidbey was a great duty station,” Barker said.