Teddy’s War

After some years of waiting, and having become aware that I was now Teddy Baker’s next-of-kin, I was recently able to apply to have his R.A.F. service record released to me. To be honest, having heard family gossip about him over the years (‘he was a tyrant’ and ‘he broke his mother’s heart’), I was expecting him to have been involved in something discreditable (such as the mutiny of 1946), or perhaps drunkenness on duty, but his record shows his conduct as either ‘satisfactory’ or ‘moderate’ throughout. He rose from AC2 to AC1 to LAC – that is, Aircraftman Second Class to Aircraftman First Class to Leading Aircraftman – and although he finished the war as an AC1 that doesn’t necessarily mean he was demoted for poor conduct; it could simply be that he was moved to a unit that already had its quota of LACs and didn’t need another one.

What’s more interesting than this, though, is his specialisation. After joining the service on 10 December 1941 and at first being part of various reserve squadrons based in the U.K., he seems to have developed an interest in – or an aptitude for – signals, and was transferred to Hendon presumably for initial training. In May 1943 he was sent to Newbold Revel, which had the previous year become a training centre specialising in secret intelligence communications, where he stayed until the end of October, and from there he had a week or so at a transit camp before being shipped off to India in November of that year. A friend of mine who is familiar with the history of Newbold Revel suggests that he may have been learning Japanese Morse Code.

The following part of the record is a bit difficult to interpret, but he was clearly sent to at least two different locations in Bombay and – to judge from the fact that he received the Burma Star at the end of the war – probably Burma as well. (More digging is necessary here!) He was discharged in October 1946 after – as far as can be seen – five years of blameless service, a good deal of it on foreign stations without much likelihood of home leave.

Now, what happened when he got home in late 1946 is anybody’s guess. He seems to have been officially ‘stood down’ from reserve duties in January 1947, received his medals in June 1948, and at some stage took up employment with British Rail and remained with them until he retired in approximately 1987 – this information is on his death certificate. British Rail staff records are held at the National Archives and that involves a trip in person – as well as applying for a new reader’s ticket as the one I previously had lapsed a long time ago – so this is not an immediate possibility.

The next obvious avenue to investigate would logically be Alec and June’s wedding photos, taken in late 1954, but unfortunately the only group photo showing everyone present is so badly arranged that, of the groom’s mother (a tiny little person), all that can be seen is the top of her hat as she tries to peek over her son’s shoulder. If Teddy is one of the individuals in the back row – and that can’t totally be ruled out – he’s not identifiable with the information currently to hand.

So, no further progress is possible at this stage – but watch this space! (Or one very much like it, anyway.) The investigation will no doubt be continuing…


The Strand Cinema Fire – Southend, 14 November 1926

The Strand had originally opened in 1909 as a skating rink and was converted to a cinema in 1911, opening as the Kinemacolour Theatre with seating capacity of 1,000.

The following text is taken from Roy Dilley’s ‘Southend’s Palaces of the Silver Screen’, published in 2011 by Phillimore & Co Ltd., ISBN 978-1-86077-680-9

On 11 September 1919 the cinema was renamed The Strand, and the ownership changed to Mr Frank Baker*. A magnificent pipe organ was installed at a cost of £4,000. The advertisements proudly proclaimed the Strand as being “The Home Of The Pipe Organ”. This instrument had been supplied by William Hill and Son of London. Solo organist was Florence De Jong (late of the Marble Arch Pavilion). The cinema also hosted a full orchestra (musical director Mr Harry De Jong, former conductor at Sexton’s West End Cinema). The Strand also held first exhibition rights of all the Famous Lasky pictures.

On Sunday, 14 November 1926 the Strand was completely destroyed by fire. The blaze was discovered at 5 a.m. and caused £35,000 damage. By 5:30 a.m. the building was a raging furnace, with flames leaping 40 ft high. The roof slates exploded like rockets, and pieces of blazing wood were carried by the high wind onto the roofs of houses in Southchurch Road. Some blazing debris struck a woman standing in a doorway in Warrior Square and burnt her badly. There was no hope of saving the cinema. All the fire brigade could do was try to save adjoining properties, which they were successful in doing. People in their night attire flocked from the surrounding streets to see the spectacle.

The only part of the cinema left standing was the box office and projection room, which were situated at the High Street end of the building. One projector was destroyed; the other was damaged, but was repairable. The film was undamaged, being stored in steel boxes. The roof had caved in and the organ melted. The only part of the organ left was the two pedals. £6,000 would not replace this instrument. 40 people including the orchestra were thrown out of work. The cause of the fire was unknown; a cigarette had been discounted as the fire had started near the roof**. In those days telephones were few, and the owner Mr Frank Baker lived at Leigh***, so friends rushed to his house, to tell him the cinema was destroyed. Mr Baker was then driven to Southend, in dressing gown and pyjamas, to behold the tragic sight.

“Billy”, the mottled cat who slept and lived on the premises, was missed after the fire, and everyone feared the worst, but, to the astonishment of all, the feline was seen prowling around the debris the next day****. 

. . .

A new picture house was built on the site, the general contractor being Arthur J. Arnold. The frontage of the building in Warrior Square was 90 feet wide, the entrance being in modern Renaissance style, with ‘Hathernware’ Faience tiling, to match the adjoining Strand Arcade. The auditorium was 131 ft long and 70 ft wide, with a sloping floor, which had a comfortable rake of seven feet. The proscenium width was 34 ft and the depth of the stage 16 ft. The seating capacity was 1,640, and the walls were finished in cream fibrous plaster, the curtains (by Messrs. Kimballs of Westcliff) and seats were in a restful shade of blue. Heating was achieved by a hot water installation with radiators, while the lighting effects were secured by electricity, with an auxiliary gas lighting plant in case of a breakdown.

The cinema opened on Saturday, 28th January 1928. A distinguished company gathered for the opening, which was performed by the mayor, Councillor A. Bockett.  The guests included many members of the town council, Mrs Eleanor Percy (chairman of directors of the Warrior Square Picture Theatre Ltd) and Mr Frank Baker (managing director). After Mr Harold Judd had sung ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and Mr D H Burles (architect), had briefly described the new building, the Mayor was invited formally to declare it open. 

. . .

A Western Electric sound system was installed for the ‘talkies’, which was changed in April 1934 for Western Electric Wide Range sound equipment.  On 7th March 1937 the cinema was sold by Mr Frank Baker to Messrs. Mistlin Theatres Ltd who were building up a new circuit. The directors of the company were David and Louis Mistlin, the latter becoming manager of the Strand.


*Frank was never the owner of the Strand; he was its manager, installed by his sister Eleanor Percy who had inherited a number of businesses on the death of her husband John Stewart Percy in June 1926.  He was also manager of the Mascot Cinema which itself burned down – but not until many years later, by which time both Frank and Eleanor had also died.

**An entirely uneducated guess might focus on the projector that was destroyed.  At the time the projector’s light source would almost certainly have been a carbon arc, and having witnessed first-hand carbon arc projectors being operated in the late 1960s/early 1970s I can testify that this was a dangerous business and that small fires in projection booths (and the attendant melting of the film) were still a relatively common occurrence.  Back in 1926, also, film stock could be highly flammable, especially if kept in a particularly dry atmosphere and not handled with great care.

***Frank must have moved to Leigh when John Percy died, and may actually have been in lodgings at the time of the fire, as his eldest three children were born sixty-odd miles away in Cambridge – one of them, Pauline, within three days of John Percy’s death.

****This not only explains the old photograph shown above, which has been in the family collection for nearly a century, but also dates it precisely.  (It may have been taken on the same day, and by the same person, as this one:  http://cinematreasures.org/photos/155121)  Billy’s ultimate fate is not recorded, although possibly he hung around long enough to supervise the rebuilding of the cinema and may even have been able to take up residence again in the new building – but sadly this will have to be left to the individual imagination!

The Baker Bunch – Part Two

We continue the saga of the children of William Augustus and Alice Esther Baker with their five youngest – all boys.

5. Stanley Baker (‘Stan’) 1888-1960

Alas, not the movie-star of the same name, who was forty years younger and Welsh. Stan was married to Grace Maud Philpot and they had one son, Philip Stanley Baker – June’s ‘Cousin Phil’ – who laid much of the groundwork of the family history detective work in this particular line. Alas, in later years, June became very confused, and actually spent a whole day with her Cousin Clive thinking he was Cousin Phil. Phil died in 2007, and it would be very interesting to know what had happened to his research material; enquiries I have made have yielded precisely nothing, unfortunately.

6. Reginald Baker (‘Reg’) 1890-1968

Reg was married to Jessica Munton, and their son was named John – and this is, I’m afraid, all the information I currently have about him except that, like all of his brothers but Frank, he both served in the First World War and worked his entire life for the GWR.

7. Frank Edward Baker 1892-1963

We’re on safer ground with Frank; he was June’s father. He married Edith Nellie Louise Mullinger (1895-1987) in 1919 and they had four children – William Edward Frank (‘Teddy’), June Edith, Pauline Mary, and Peter Neville Macord.* Frank was excluded both from working with the GWR and also from active military duty in the First World War as the result of a childhood accident which left him with only one eye. He did, however, go to France as an ambulance driver; the emotions of Alice as she waved away all seven sons, in turn, to the battlefields can only be imagined.

Frank had a glass eye, and is reputed to have entertained guests by taking it out and polishing it at the dinner table – but this story seems to have circulated about everyone who ever had a glass eye, and should probably be taken with a pinch of salt! He was variously in the licensed trade, a cinema manager, and the proprietor of a tobacconist and sweet shop – the business, and premises, of which he is trying to divest himself of in the course of the 1960 and 1961 letters on this site. He was also a Freemason, but this is an area of family history which is notoriously elusive and I have not attempted to research it yet; however I am aware that the masons refused to help Edith when, towards the end of her life, she needed a place in a residential care home.

8. Cyril Baker 1893 – 1960

Cyril married Beryl Smith, and they had four children – Patricia Kathleen, Iris, Anthony Cyril Raynham, and Clive Robert Ian. Again, as with some of the other ‘boys’, this is all the available information at the moment; clearly further research is indicated.

9. Hubert Dudley Baker (‘Bunny’) 1896-1917

Lacking any definitive information about how his nickname came to be, it isn’t difficult to imagine young Hubert being his mother’s darling and consolation after the death of her husband. Apart from this we know little, and it is only recently (i.e. February 2021) that a photograph of him has emerged on a ‘Member’s Tree’ in the Ancestry database, incorrectly labelled as being of Frank. Clearly a wrong attribution had become attached to it by someone who had never met Frank, or indeed anyone who knew him; close scrutiny, however, reveals a cap badge bearing the Prince of Wales’ feathers, and we know that Bunny was in the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles.

The circumstances of Bunny’s death are still a mystery, although it should be possible to research. He died (appropriately for a railway worker) at Railway Dugouts, near Ypres, on 18 January 1917, and is commemorated on the Ealing Memorial Gates at Ealing Common, along with over 800 other local men.

So, these are the seven men and two women who made up ‘The Baker Bunch’. They undoubtedly knew hardship – Alice used to tell her sons always to carry a half-penny and a stone in their pocket, so that they could jangle them together and sound wealthy even though they weren’t – however they all seem to have won through in the end and made decent lives for themselves and their children, who by my reckoning numbered 26 in all, with goodness knows how many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren (Frank certainly has at least three!) and potentially great-great-great grandchildren before too long.

It really needs little more than this snapshot of one family to realise exactly how big a task Family History is, even when you already have a lot of the information you need. Family is indeed, as Dodie Smith memorably called it, a ‘Dear Octopus’ from whose tentacles one can never completely escape; that being said, however, it is not un-reasonable to document it to whatever extent is possible – if only so that future generations do not continue to confuse Phil with Clive, or Frank with Bunny!

[*Mullinger and Macord are both fascinating families with very long recorded histories; the Macords in particular were Huguenots who fled to England from religious persecution in France in the seventeenth century, and it would be reasonable to suggest that every single Macord in the various online genealogy databases is somehow related to ‘our’ Macords – it’s a particularly unusual surname. My distant relative Colin Gronow is currently working on a definitive ‘One-Name Study‘ of the Macords. The name came into the Baker line via Alice Esther’s mother Rachael Nickolls Macord.]