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 mystery of the missing brother; Part 2

Back in September I promised an update including any further information that might be obtained from Teddy’s death certificate. It was a little disappointing, but such as it is I include it here.

Teddy died on 27 February 2001 in Hillingdon Hospital, Middlesex. The informant on his death certificate was a lady who gave an address in Hillingdon which turned out to be a community centre; as Teddy would have been just a month short of his 80th birthday at the time of his death, it seems reasonable to assume he was attending a day centre or a pensioners’ lunch when he was taken ill – and that either the manager of the centre or a member of staff went with him in the ambulance and was either present at the time of death or was listed in his paperwork as next of kin.

I have tried writing to this lady at the address given but – unsurprisingly – have had no reply so far.

The only further information yielded by the death certificate relates to Teddy’s address (a ground floor flat, probably Council-owned), his occupation – given as ‘Railwayman (retired)’, which is interesting – and the cause of death, which was ‘metastatic sarcoma’. It should be possible in due course to ferret out the details of Teddy’s employment as a railwayman, but other than that – unless/until his RAF service records become available – it seems as if we have reached a dead end. The only other possibility might be reaching out to a local newspaper or radio station covering the Hillingdon area, and that is certainly something we are well prepared to do when the time comes.

The mystery of the missing brother

Teddy in approx. 1924 and 1944

Now we come to one of the sadder chapters of our family history, the story of June’s missing brother. That is to say, he wasn’t literally ‘missing’ – he didn’t go off hiking one day and never come back, or anything like that – but he was deliberately expelled from the family for conduct that has never been specified, and there was no remotest possibility of forgiveness or reconciliation for the rest of his life.

William Edward Frank Baker (Teddy) was born at 112 Tenison Road, Cambridge, on 26 March 1922, the first child of Frank – then a cinema manager – and Edith (nee Mullinger). There is a photo of him as a small child, certainly less than two years old, and then a gap in the record until he joins Lindisfarne College, Westcliff-on-Sea, in January 1934 at the age of 11.

I have a full set of school reports, which seem to suggest that he was ill during his first summer term and missed quite a lot of school, after which he struggled to catch up. His strengths were maths, ‘handwork’ (presumably carpentry) and, unexpectedly, French – although he clearly enjoyed larking about and was not particularly serious about his work. As far as his conduct goes, his headmaster – one Edward Daws – repeatedly refers to him as a pleasant and good-natured boy; not academic, perhaps, but practical and straightforward, and one who should do well in later life.

Of course, you have all worked out already what’s coming young Teddy’s way; he was born in 1922, and would therefore have been 17 at the start of the Second World War. In 1939 he was living with his parents at the Victoria Hotel in Wolverton (‘The New Queen Victoria’), and was described as an ‘Assistant Hotel Manager’. His father was the manager. Teddy’s parents, two sisters and his baby brother (June, Pauline and Peter) all lived there as well; so did his maternal grandfather William and his mother’s sister Nell – plus a barmaid, the barmaid’s child, and another couple who were probably lodgers. This is a household of ten people, and although the building is quite large it was operating as a hotel and may also have had letting bedrooms – which would have been more than enough to keep the family busy cooking, cleaning and otherwise catering for themselves and their guests.

Details of Teddy’s wartime career are not available at the moment; the MoD will not release them without the consent of the next of kin until 25 years after the individual’s death. He was in the RAF, he was not a pilot, and he served in the Far East; that’s all I know.

In 1943, Frank and Edith inserted a notice in one of the Southend newspapers (not yet identified):

BAKER: Of age on March 26th 1943, William Edward Frank (RAF) eldest son of Mr and Mrs Frank Baker, late of Strand Cinema and Mascot Cinema. Now of Tower Arms Hotel, Iver, Bucks. [2739A]

And then there is silence. We have Teddy’s own word (in a letter to Alec Atkins after Edith had died) that he ‘lost contact with his family in the 1950s’. June’s only comments about this ever were ‘he was a tyrant’ and ‘he broke his mother’s heart’. Alec went to considerable lengths to track him down via the secretary of the RAFA at Uxbridge in 1987, because Teddy had been left a small legacy in Edith’s will. Teddy decline to benefit, and asked that the money should be sent to the World Wildlife Fund instead. Alec was quite brusque, saying that he didn’t know why Teddy had remained apart from his family and he didn’t want to know, and there the correspondence ended.

In late 2003, June was contacted by an heir hunter in connection with Teddy’s own estate; Teddy had apparently died in early 2001 – about six months before Alec, as it happens – and there was a small sum of money to be distributed between his heirs. As Pauline had also died by then, and had no children, June and Peter shared the legacy between them; June was reluctant to accept the money, but recognised that it would enable her to help her grandson, Robin, so put most of it into an account for him.

And now there’s nobody left to explain how and why a family member was so effectively shut out that his death wasn’t known about until more than two years after the event. Nothing about Teddy’s school reports indicates a ‘tyrant’ in his youth; he was never in trouble with the police as far as I know, but until I can access his service record it’s impossible to know what may have happened to him during the war. My best guess at the moment is PTSD, which changed his behaviour, or possibly some involvement in the infamous RAF mutiny of 1946. Or, indeed, both.

Teddy never married, nor had children, and the rest of his life is a mystery. He may have worked for the RAF in a civilian capacity, as I received the garbled impression that he was a steward in the Mess at RAF Hendon, but unless I can make contact with someone who knew him towards the end of his life this is unlikely ever to be resolved.

I’ve applied for Teddy’s death certificate in case it sheds any more light on the subject, but at the time of posting this it still hasn’t arrived. I’ll update if there is anything of interest to report when it does get here.

Anyway, Teddy was a perfect example of the way the family as a whole tended to deal with problems – i.e. ignore them, and the people who create them, and simply make them go away. There was a similar case in the 1980s when they tried to magic away someone who did not fit their template for an ideal human being – but somehow or another, and to their eternal chagrin, I’m still here, and I’m the one who gets to tell the story.

I’m really sorry, Teddy, I wish I’d known you; I think we’d have had quite a lot in common!