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16 June 1944 and later

 

 

 

Reggie Baker was like that....

How we missed him and his leadership, formidable presence and his jolly infectious convivial company in the bar in the evenings.[1]

 

Killy Kilpatrick F/Lt Comm. 197 Sqn;

Reg was not only a good leader, he commanded the automatic respect of all his pilots, what further need be said.  Part of his character appeared to be a 'fun loving' extrovert, a quality which took the 'sting' out of each and every 'OP'.

 

John G. (Jack) Brown was a pilot with 193 Squadron:

He was considered by many of us to be invincible, to be one who would survive the war. Most of us would have accompanied him on any difficult operation, we had such confidence in his leadership. It was a great shock when he did not return from the operation on 16 June and a pall of gloom and sadness fell over the Wing for some time.

 

From Combat & Competition[6]:

Those who were privileged to serve under his command recall an extrovert, hell raising Wing Leader. Who feared no man, had no respect for bureaucratic authority or stupid senior officers. His voice on the telephone, through the canvas walls of his office on the airfield: "Baker? BAKER!..... B for Bastard'...... A for Arsehole!..... "

 When the occasion demanded he had his own phonetic alphabet!

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Lochinvar - out....

16 June 1944

The following was compiled by F/Lt Neville Thomas:

On 16 June 1944 the Army put in an urgent call for assistance. It was considered that the Germans were reinforcing the front from the south through the village of Thury Harcourt.

The RAF were called upon to blast three road over river bridges, and so seriously impede this reinforcement. It was known that this was going to be a very dangerous operation with low cloud over the target and considerable flak defences. But as Flight Lieutenant Neville Thomas recorded (the Intelligence Officer at Needs Oar Point) ‘despite all this, realising the urgency of the mission, wing Commander Baker decided to make an attempt.’

Reg carefully briefed the pilots of 197 and 257 squadron late that afternoon. The flight took them over the French Coast near Point de la Percee, flying south at 4/5,000 feet, just below the cloud base.

Soon they ran into trouble a few miles to the west of Caen, as German flak batteries of all calibres opened up. The 197 and 257 squadron pilots lost sight of their Wing Commander as the formation was disrupted by the bursting shells. Then a voice was heard over the radio:

‘Hello Carefree and Vampire aircraft, Port 180 – Lochinvar – out.’

Nothing more was heard from Reg Baker. One pilot would later report that just before the last order was received he caught sight, through the cloud, of a Typhoon, out of control, in an almost vertical dive. It was believed by all that this was Reg baker and whilst plummeting to crash to earth he had ordered his Wing to fly away from the danger.

Flight Lieutenant Neville Thomas recorded:

 ‘Later we learned, to our sorrow, that he had crashed near St Mauvieu, where he was buried by our front line troops. So the Wing lost a fine leader, to whom it owes much, and I – a great friend.

His Majesty the King graciously approved the award of the Distinguished Service Order to this gallant gentleman.'

  [View F/Lt Neville Thomas's chapter: England and the Beachhead]
(an excellent read)

 

Flying Officer S J Eaton 257 Squadron wrote:

One of the squadron commanders had led a raid on the first occasion and it was almost dusk when we went over to Normandy and flak was so intense that the leader turned us back. Of course, Reg Baker was absolutely livid when he heard that the wing had been turned back because of flak and so he said we’d go back the next evening. But it was exactly the same time, exactly the same approach etc, and he led. Of course, we had a repeat flak barrage and he was hit and went straight in . I remember it distinctly. It was far too late, dusk and the flak, you could see the flashes everywhere, was intense.[4]

 

From Combat & Competition[6]:

The orchard at St Croix sur Mer will always recall the legend of Reggie Baker. For it was there at dusk, after his grave had been found, that Jimmy Simpson told the story again. A Wing show which he was leading, late in the day, had run into intense flak. Hit and diving almost vertically out of control he had called his squadrons - calm and confident on the radio - and turned them away from the murderous barrage - in the last moments of his life .....

... and a single Typhoon hurtling earthwards..... What a way to go!

Those who were privileged to serve under his command recall an extrovert, hell raising Wing Leader. Who feared no man, had no respect for bureaucratic authority or stupid senior officers. His voice on the telephone, through the canvas walls of his office on the airfield: "Baker? BAKER!..... B for Bastard'...... A for Arsehole!..... "

When the occasion demanded he had his own phonetic alphabet!

Above all they remember his last show. And those whom he led on that occasion have a more personal memory. The groan which went up at briefing when he announced that they would be going in at 4,000 feet, and his response, so poignant in retrospect:

 “What’s wrong! – Do you want to live forever?”

 A very gallant gentleman.

  [View the 257 Sqn ORB for June 1944]

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Reported missing

19 June 1944

Telegram to Norma informing her that Reggie was missing

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Buried with full military honours

26 June 1944

His aircraft crashed near a small place named St. Mauvieu, which is approximately 3 miles West of Caen.

It was found 10 days later, he was still in his aircraft, by Capt J.B. Lynd of HQ 3rd Canadian Division. Reggie was buried beside his aircraft right in the battle area, beside a gun position. 

Local people  recalled even in 2001 the funeral where the whole village and advanced Allied troops had buried him with full military honours, despite the presence of a large force of German troops close by.

Reggie was buried beside the wreckage of his aircraft right in the battle area - St. Manvieu

 

Reg Baker's original grave next to the wreckage of his Typhoon, St Manvieu

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Reg was buried three times following his death in June 1944. First by his aircraft (above) and then in September 1944 by the side of a temporary airfield near Beny-sur-Mer.  He was finally laid to rest in March 1947 at the Canadian War Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer.

September 1944 by the side of a temporary airfield near Beny-sur-Mer

 

Wing Commander Ernest Reginald Baker is reported to have lost his life

 3 July 1944

Group Captain Denys Gillam wrote to Reg’s wife. 

20(F)  Sector

RAF, APO

England

 

Dear Mrs Baker

May I add my sympathy to you for your recent great bereavement. Your husband was second in command of this unit and actual took over my Wing when I was promoted to this Sector. Of all Wing Leaders that I have met I do not think that I have ever met one who was so keen, popular and efficient. It was a very hard and tragic blow to all of us when we lost him.

                I have just received some further news. His aircraft crashed near a small place named St Mauvieu, which is approximately 3 miles West of Caen. It was found by Capt J.B. Lynd of HQ 3rd Canadian Division with our forward troops and your husband was buried beside his aircraft right in the battle area, beside 30’’ Gun position.

                May I once again extend my sympathy and say that it was great personal blow to me also, to lose such a great friend & leader.

Yours sincerely

Denys Gillam G/C

13 July 1944

Telegram confirming that Reg had lost his life

 

 

From Air Ministry 73 Oxford Street W 1 PC 889

13/7/44 Deeply regret to advise you information now received that your husband Wing Commander Ernest Reginald Baker (40660) is reported to have lost his life as a result of air operations.'

 

 

Scroll from the King

[click for larger image]

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A Great Doncastrian

Claude Enfield would write in The Doncaster Free Press later in June 1944:

Great Doncastrian – Wing Commander E. R. Baker, Doncaster’s air ace, a freeman of the Borough, is missing. Those of us who had followed his career with such deep and proud interest were clinging to the hope that he who had so brilliantly avoided misfortune would continue to baffle the odds, so to speak, and come through the war unscathed, but it was not to be.

Yet what a brilliant record. How many planes he shot down, how many submarines and E-boats he sank, I do not know, but I should say his bag put him among the greatest air aces of the war. It seemed as if nothing could go wrong for him. That he should have flown day after day and week after week for the best part of four and a half years getting the better of jerry every time is a record bordering on the miraculous. And this great gladiator of the skies was once a school teacher. If he has been lost to us we shall treasure his memory as a great Doncastrian and a personification and embodiment of our great race of young men who, devoted to peace, enemies of no man, have shown that when the life of the old country is at stake they can rise to immortal heights.

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 Awarded the DSO

 21 November 1944

With effect from 15 June Reg Baker was awarded the DSO to go with his DFC and Bar.

 

Reggie's medals:  DFC - Bar  and DSO

 

 

ROYAL AIR FORCE AWARD

 The King has been graciously pleased to approve the following award in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations:

Distinguished Service Order 

Acting Wing Commander Ernest Reginald BAKER, D.F.C., (40660), R.A.F.O. (Since reported missing):

 Since being awarded a bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross in August 1943, this officer has led a large number of fighter bomber attacks against enemy shipping and constructional targets and has personally destroyed three enemy aircraft. In October 1943, Wing Commander Baker carried out a hazardous attack at point blank range on enemy shipping under heavy fire, to score a direct hit. By his outstanding leadership, courage, and determination, he has set a splendid example to his officers and men.

Acting Wing Commander Baker was born at DONCASTER in 1914 where his home is. He was educated at Doncaster Grammar School and Chester College. He was commissioned in 1938, was awarded the DFC in November 1940 and Bar in October 1943.

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20 February 1945

 

Reggie's father, William Baker & widow, Norma, went to Buckingham Palace to receive his DSO.


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[1] A Typhoon Tale, Kyle J p140

[2] Typhoon Attack

[3] Typhoon Attack

[4] Typhoon Attack

[5] A Pride of Eagles: The Definitive History of the Rhodesian Air Force 1920-80 - Beryl Salt

[6] Combat and Competition (Hardcover) by David Ince  Publisher: Newton Publishers (Dec 1992)

 

 

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This page last updated:Monday 22 December 2008

 

Table of contents detailing updates added here
 
RAF Lasham 1942-48 - a project by Trinny.  Please click here to view

Victory Fighters: The Veterans' Story - Winning the Battle for Supremacy in the Skies Over Western Europe, 1941-1945
By Stephen Darlow

Victory Fighters is largely a collection of eye-witness accounts of the struggle that raged in the skies over occupied Europe after the Battle of Britain. Reg Baker is one of the six featured pilots.

Stephen Darlow has been a major support and contributor to this website do please visit the website of this excellent Military Aviation author.

[Link]


 



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