Baker, Sydney Harold
Son of James Baker, Bookseller (J Baker & Sons, The Mall, Clifton), of Sewelle Villa, Goldney Road.
Baker was born on 22/05/1880, and attended the School from 1890-1899. He served as a Major in the Army, with the Gloucestershire Regiment 12th Entrenching Bn., late 1st Bn.. Baker sadly lost his life on 23/03/1918, as a result of the War.
He is remembered on Pozieres Memorial, France, panel 40 and 41.
A Report of His Loss (BGS Chronicle July 1918)
Major in the Gloucesters, was killed in action on March 23rd at the age of 37. He had been in temporary command of an entrenching battalion, and the officer to whom he had just handed over command before he was shot, writes that Major Baker had been holding a redoubt for 36 hours, and by his example and ability had kept the enemy at bay. At the order to withdraw he was the last to leave, and just as he was nearing safety he was hit by a bullet and instantaneously killed. He had put up a splended fight. Major Baker was an honours science man at Oxford. He took an open science scholarship at Jesus College, Oxford, and honours degree 1903. He then went to Charlottenburg for a post-graduate course, and after a short period as a science master at Loretto he took charge and developed the science work at Abingdon School. At Jesus College he was captain of the boats, and stroke of the Eight at Oxford and Henley. He was a scientific photographer, and lecturer on German life, natural history, and science. He was a good linguist, and had travelled widely in Europe. He was gazetted Major whole in Salonika in August, 1916, where he did valuable reconnoitring work.
Three new prizes are being offered for competition in the School. One is the Sydney Harold Baker Prize for general Science, given by Mr James baker in memory of his son, Major Baker, whose death in action is recorded in this number.
A Notable Tribute to the Late Major S.H. Baker (A Leader of Men, James Baker, 1920)
Numerous friends of the late Mr James Baker, of Clifton, and of his gifted son, the late Major Sydney Harold Baker, of the Gloucestershire Regiment, will welcome the book which the former completed shortly before his death on his son as “A Leader of Men”, and which is published by Mr John Lane. Mr Baker dedicated his work to “His mother and all who loved him”, and owing to the author’s demise it is now presented to the public “as a tribute to his memory, as well as to that of his soldier son”.
In Mr Baker’s book, which is plentifully illustrated, the interesting career of his accomplished and brave son is sketched with rare charm and affection. Sydney Harold Baker, after a happy childhood in Clifton and its beautiful environments, was educated at the Bristol Grammar School, whence he passed to Oxford University and Charlottenburg. Returning to his native land he became a science master, and in 1907 he took his MA degree at Oxford. In his spare time he made good use of his pen, and his articles on science and travel appeared in well-known magazines.
When war broke out in July, 1914, being familiar with France and Germany, and knowing both languages well he offered his services to the Government as interpreter or in any other capacity, but was refused as being over age at 40! He spent the August vacation in training recruits for the Gloucestershire Regiment, and eventually in January, 1915, he accepted the invitation of Col. Vines to join the 9th Gloucesters. In which he received a commission and soon became a captain. His battalion crossed to France in September, and they were soon doing important work at the front. Transferred to Macedonia, his battalion again gave a good account of themselves for quite a long period. Major Baker, as he had become, had narrow escapes from shells from time to time, but contracted dysentery and was sent to the hospital in Malta. In January, 1917, he had “a respite in Blighty” and rejoined the family circle in Clifton, where his two brothers also arrived on leave from military service. After working at several home camps, the major recovered sufficiently to go abroad again and in October he left for France, where he was attached to the 14th Gloucesters. The battalion had a full share in “the whirlpool of horror” and some vivid descriptions of battlefields are given. Deeds of daring and of rescue made him a favourite with all ranks.
HE KNEW THE HUN
In a letter home towards the end of 1917 the major objected to a peaceable speech by Mr Lloyd George and wrote, “I have no belief in any sort of peace without the Hun’s absolutely smashed, and I can’t see him accepting all we must insist on before he is absolutely smashed, and as for saying we don’t want to ‘bust’ up the German or Austrian Empire, it is perfectly obvious the more we work with this in view the quicker the business will be finished”. The father adds, “How prophetic are his next words:-
“I can’t imagine a peace before next Christmas. The Hun has at least six months’ smashing to blazes after he has cracked. In any case, it doesn’t seem to me that we ourselves are yet sufficiently changed by the war to merit its coming to an end. There is too much careless selfishness everywhere, and no careless, selfish nation will be good enough as a world leader after this affair is finished, for that’s what the whole business is about.”
In February, 1918, the major was home again on short leave. Strange rumours were about in Bristol concerning the Gloucesters and the author heard the 14th had been disbanded, which he could not credit. When he asked what they had been up to the son replied, “What have you been hearing?” but he would tell nothing. “It” was too true, and he felt it terribly. But the tale of the Homeric stand made by the 14th has been told by others, and also of acts of bravery performed by Major Baker. With the 13th Entrenching Battalion (which was formed partly of Gloucesters) he went again into the thick of the fighting, but still wrote cheerfully and said his men all seemed to be in great spirits. His last letter home was dated “Sunday, St Patrick’s Day”, and its contents relate more to personal and family affairs than to the fighting. From the 21st of March there were days of awful waiting and anxiety. On the 28th, the family heard that he was at St Quentin, and therefore in the debacle. A telegram arrived on April 7 containing the news that the worst had happened – “but we were yet to learn how gloriously he had fallen and how greatly he was loved”. This was obtained from statements, written and verbal, made by surviving officers and men.
A FIGHT AGAINST ODDS
On March 22 at dawn, there was a thick mist and it was impossible to see much of what was going on in front. The Germans had “complete mastery of the air” that day and shelled the British lines very heavily. At 11 o’clock patrols who had been sent out brought back the information that the Germans were breaking through all along the line, and battalions from the front line fell back upon the one in which Major Baker was at work. Things went badly for the British all day, in spite of their superhuman efforts against crowds of Germans better supplied with aeroplanes and shells. Although under fierce fire, Major Baker was actually obliged to tell his officers to “conserve the ammunition”. Finally, after severe firing at close quarters, the Germans threw bombs into the British trenches and swarmed into them. Major Baker got many of his men away, but returned to rescue others from the Germans and was shot dead. Brother officers and men paid unstinted praise to his heroism and declared “His name will never die”. Details of the fighting are given in some thrilling chapters.
Mr Baker’s book contains also a number of descriptive articles and poems by his gifted son, with photographic illustrations.