James or Jimmy, as he was known, was born in London the youngest child of Harold Ross Barker and Ellen Powell. His paternal grandfather was Dean of Carlisle and his maternal grandfather was Rector of Escrick, York at the time of his parents’ marriage. He had two older sisters, the eldest of whom died very young.

Harold Ross Barker had been educated at Eton and Christ Church and was a renowned oarsman, having rowed for the University and in the 1908 Olympics.

James went to Eton in 1927 where his housemaster [E.W. Powell] was a brother of his mother. He matriculated in 1933. Jimmy was President of the college Boat Club and Junior Treasurer of the JCR. He was a member of the OUBC. He took a 2nd class degree in PPE in 1936 and was employed from 1938, by Cadbury Brothers at Bourneville.

His family lived at Huntercombe Manor, Nuffield near Henley. His father died in 1937

James joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was a Pilot Officer based at Fulbeck, Lincolnshire when his plane - Oxford I - R5954 - 2 CFS - crashed on take-off at night and he was killed.

He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity, Nuffield. There is a roadside memorial to his father and himself in Nuffield.

His estate amounted to £4,271-18s and Probate was granted to his sister.

In 2010, Manfred Schotten Antiques of Burford, Oxfordshire offered for sale,

The Album of an Eton Boy 1927 - 1932.
This album belonged to H.J. (James) Barker covering highlights of his school career at Eton, E.W. Powell's House. It includes group photographs of rowing, soccer and the Eton Wall Game. His final sporting achievement was victory in the school sculling 1932 (single sculls). 

Also included are congratulatory telegrams dated 1936 sent to his family home, Huntercombe Manor, Henley-on-Thames regarding his degree at Oxford University, and a letter from his tutor at Christ Church College explaining the reason for his "Viva Voce" at Oxford for the degree.