I thought we’d done this before, but apparently not. Therefore – since we have recently mentioned June’s uncles Stan (who died in May 1960) and Will (who had a stroke that same year but survived), and we will shortly be mentioning Cyril who also died in 1960, and June’s father Frank is never far from the proceedings – it’s probably time to do them justice.
William Augustus Baker, 1854-1897, who described himself as a ‘tea dealer and rent collector’ (although we suspect his tea dealing was done from a barrow on a street corner somewhere) was June’s grandfather; however he died nearly thirty years before she was born. He had married Alice Esther Daniel in early 1854, and by the end of that year the first of their nine children was born; this was Alice Edith Macord Baker, 1882-1962, (‘Macord’ being a family name with a fascinating pedigree of its own), who is the Miss Baker (Aunt Eda) who sometimes appears in the letters.
Apart from Eleanor, 1886-1964, who made an interesting marriage and was subsequently the family superstar, all the rest were boys: William Ernest (Will), 1882-1962; Robert Lionel (Rob), 1885-1971; Stanley (Stan), 1888-1960; Reginald (Reg), 1890-1968; Frank, 1892-1963; Cyril, 1893-1960; and Hubert Dudley (‘Bunny’), 1896-1917.
Frank was blinded in one eye as the result of a childhood accident, which kept him out of military service in the First World War when – as far as I know – all his brothers went; however he was able to serve as an ambulance driver. Bunny, who was in the Civil Service Rifles, was killed in 1917 on active service and buried at Railway Dugout cemetery, Ypres. Alice was awarded a pension on his behalf.
All the surviving ‘boys’ except Frank joined the GWR. Again, his disability prevented it; Frank became ‘business manager’ for Eleanor when she was widowed, and ran a number of hotels, pubs, and other commercial operations on her behalf.
As you will have gathered, railways were what brought the family together; Alec Atkins, as a young man, came to lodge at the house in Ealing which was then owned by Eda Baker – and which presumably gave priority to young GWR railwaymen – and there he met her niece, June, whom he married in 1954.
In the late 1950s the ‘boys’ were featured in an issue of the GWR magazine; their photo was taken at an annual cricket match and an article was written about their many years of service – which must by this point have totalled about 200 years, a small drop in the ocean of the joined families’ overall service. Five of June’s uncles were railway staff; so were both of Alec’s uncles, his father, his grandfather and a myriad of predecessors dating back to the earliest recorded member of the family in railway service who was a packer in the goods department at Weston-super-Mare.
Apart from Frank the ‘boy’ I have the clearest recollection of is Rob, who outlived all the others. He lived in a house in Ealing – very close to, and possibly later subsumed by, a large branch of Sainsbury’s – with his second wife, Rhoda, and an excitable little white poodle called Pepe. Rob was house-bound and in very poor health, and as result he bought the first colour television I ever saw in private hands – although I had seen a demonstration of colour TV in a department store a short time before that – in order to watch racing in the afternoons. Whether or not he ever had a flutter, I am not in a position to say.
I’m in intermittent contact with Rob’s grandson Christopher, who is one of the many cousins I’ve been in touch with during my family history researches. Chris’s father, Roy, very kindly sent me a whole batch of old family photos before his death a few years ago – some of which I will be reproducing here in due course.