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Thomas Wickens Baker

Private 20156 Thomas Wickens Baker, 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment

 

Thomas Baker's grave in France

Thomas Baker's grave in France

Thomas was born on 26 February 1894 and was christened on 13 June 1894 in the church of St John the Evangelist at Hammersmith.  His parents were Thomas William Baker, a railway porter and his wife Ruth (née Wickens) who lived at 10 Clifton Road, Maida Vale.


Tragedy came early in Thomas’ life when his father died on 17 March, 1902. His mother, Ruth, who was born in Hungerford left London after her husband’s death and brought the family (Thomas had an elder sister, Hilda) back to Berkshire, living by 1911 at 2 Belvedere Terrace, now 37 Queen’s Road, Newbury where she was close to her brother James Wickens who lived a few yards away at 36 York Road.  Thomas senior obviously trusted James to look after his sister, appointing him as an executor of his will by which he left the not inconsiderable sum of £836 11s.8d. This was enough to free his widow from the need to work, and seems a large amount for a railway porter to have left.

 

Following school young Thomas got a job; according to the 1911 census this was as an ‘apprentice stationary’ which, presumably, did not involve learning how to ‘not move’ and was either work at a local stationers or he was following his father and working at the local railway station.

 

37 Queen's Road

37 Queen's Road, 2 Belvedere Terrace when the Bakers were living there from 1902 to 1916.

In 1916 Thomas’ mother moved from Queen’s Road around the corner to 4 East View Cottages, now 15 Livingstone Road

 

When war broke out Thomas was 20 years old, just the sort of recruit that was wanted, but he did not join the rush to volunteer. This might appear sensible today, but such was the pressure to ‘do your bit’ that it took some courage not to sign up.  By late 1915 it was becoming apparent that conscription would be needed to keep up the supply of men for the front. However, before taking the final step of conscription the man appointed to run the recruiting campaign, the Earl of Derby, tried a final campaign to generate more recruits. The Derby Scheme, as it became known, involved men signing up for future service as and when their country needed them.  As the Scheme came to a close in December 1915 there was a rush to sign up, many preferring this form of volunteering to the imminent arrival of conscription; the Scheme gave them more options as to where they served.  Thomas signed up with the Royal Berkshire Regiment on 6 December 1915, but a 21-year-old would not need to wait long before his call-up came; his birth date placed him in Group 4 of the scheme, and Groups 2 to 4 (19-21 year olds) were the first to be called up, their notices being issued on 20 December for mobilisation on 20 January 1915. The most confusing aspect of his enlistment was that he signed up in Shrewsbury, a long way from home; it is not known what took him to Shrewsbury.

 

Following a period of training in England, Private 20156 Baker arrived in France in early 1916 as part of a draft of reinforcements for the 8th (Service) Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment. For the next few months the battalion had the usual periods in the firing line (the front line trenches) with periods in reserve billets. Occasionally raiding parties were sent out, or similar enemy raids repulsed, but this was a relatively quiet period until early July. 

 

On 1 July the Allies launched a massive assault on the Somme. For the first few days the 8th Royal Berks were in reserve, but on 10 July they moved forward to man two trenches near Lozenge Wood (between Fricourt and Contalmaison); the following day they moved forward to Contalmaison, which had been taken the night before by the 8th Yorks. Over the next few days they advanced a small distance over territory largely evacuated by the Germans meeting only light resistance, until 14 July when they attacked the new German line meeting far more serious resistance. Although they succeeded in entering the German trench, they were beaten back by a determined German counter attack.  Casualties over these few days were considerable; 6 officers and 143 men being killed, missing or wounded; 2 of these are recorded in the war diary as dying of their wounds.  Perhaps one of these was Thomas Baker who is reported to have died of wounds on 14 July 1916.  However, it is more likely that he was among the 123 men listed as wounded for he died well behind the lines at one of the Casualty Clearing Stations operating at Heilly Station between Albert and Amiens. 


Thomas' name on Newbury War Memorial(lower left)

Frank's name on Newbury War Memorial(lower left)

Thomas was buried in grave II.B.32 at Heilly Station Cemetery.  This cemetery is known for the high number of shared graves, such was the shortage of space. Thomas shares his resting place with Thomas Hush (Yorkshire Regiment) and H A Martin (Royal Irish Regiment).

 

Locally he is remembered on panel 9 of the Newbury Town War Memorial.

 

A year after his death his relatives remembered him in an announcement in the local paper:


Newbury Weekly News, 19 July 1917 p5 – In Memoriam
BAKER – July 14, 1916, killed in France. Private Thomas Wickens Baker, 8th Royal Berks Regt, only and beloved son of the late Thomas William Baker, Paddington, London, and Ruth Baker, 4 East View Cottages, Livingstone Road, Newbury, and great-grandson of Ambrose Wickens, Shalbourne, Wiltshire.

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 Died this day:
28 June 1920
A Seward
Newbury

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