MANY families suffered the tragedy of losing more than one son in the First World War. This story of the Baker brothers, who died on active service in the Middle East, comes to us from Val Worwood, Mike Smith and Don Kirby of the Woodside Memory and History Group, who are working to record the lives of every man from the Woodside, Harts Hill, Low Town, Scotts Green and Holly Hall areas of Dudley who gave his life in the two world wars.
Joseph Baker was born in Dudley in 1865, his wife Caroline was born in Sedgley the same year and they were married in 1891 at Dudley Register Office. For a while they lived in Tipton and it was there that their first children were born; Harry in 1894, Nelly in 1896 and Walter in 1898. They then moved to Dudley, where their son Frank was born in 1899 and their youngest child, Edith Agness, in 1904.
In 1911 the family home was at 44 Brettell Street, Dudley, and the census records Joseph as a steelworker and Harry as a part-time student.
In the First World War Walter and Frank both enlisted in the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars, or the Worcestershire Yeomanry as it was also known. They may have enrolled together as their service numbers are close together.
Since 1913 the Hussars had been under the command of the Earl of Dudley, who had appointed a permanent staff of instructors and trained his men in musketry. With the outbreak of hostilities the regiment became part of the 1st South Midland Mounted Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Edgar Askin Wiggin, and was despatched to Egypt. By August 1915 they were at Chatby Camp, near Alexandria. From then on the regiment fought as infantry and was sent to Sulva Bay to support the Gallipoli campaign.
Frank Baker fought at Chocolate Hill in the Battle of Sari Bair, the final attempt by the British to seize the Gallipoli peninsula from the Turks. The battle ended in stalemate and the Worcestershire Hussars were withdrawn and Frank returned to Alexandria.
In 1916 the Turks invaded Egypt, striking for the Suez Canal. The Battle of Katia was fought on 23rd April, 1916. Two squadrons of the Worcestershire Yeomanry, along with a small number of Royal Engineers, held the oasis at Ogrhanita. In the early morning they were attacked by overwhelming numbers and, despite resisting manfully for two hours, forced to surrender. 11 officers and 135 other ranks were casualties, among them Frank, who died aged 17.
On 6th June, 1916, Walter embarked at Devonport and landed at Alexandria 10 days later. He would fight in the British counteroffensive, driving the Turks out of Egypt and then invading Palestine, eventually capturing Jerusalem in December 1917.
At some point Walter became a prisoner of war of the Turks and was held at a camp in Damascus. The city was captured by British and Commonwealth forces on 1st October, 1918. The Turkish hospitals were crowded with sick and wounded and within days epidemics of influenza, typhus, malaria and enteric fever broke out. Walter Baker died of malaria, aged 21, on 1st November, 1918.
Frank Baker has no known grave but his name is recorded on the Jerusalem Memorial in the city’s war cemetery. Walter Baker is buried in the Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery.
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