Biography of David Searle-Baker

Royal Air Force: Ex Aircraft Apprentice, No. 1 School of Technical Training, Halton. Buckinghamshire. England. 46th Entry, Service as a Fitter II Airframes, in the Middle East and Western Europe,

1943 – 1950

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, or photcopying, recording. or otherwise, without the prior consent of the publisher. Copyright David Newton Searle-Baker 1st. January, 2000

PROLOGUE

3rd. September 1999

     All of us, at some time or other, have those occasional moments in our lives when time stands still. Forever after we can bring up that frozen period and remember all that happened with a clarity that defies explanation.

     It is therefore fitting that I should commence writing this biography on the sixtieth anniversary of such a day in my life, when Britain declared war on Germany following the invasion of Poland in 1939.

     I was twelve and a half at the time. With the war clouds gathering I had been packed off to my boarding school in Sussex two weeks early. Nobody knew quite what to expect should war be declared: but an immediate aerial attack with the possible use of gas was quite on the cards, if one followed the forecasts of H.G.Wells, in his book and subsequent film "Things to Come".

     Consequently much time had been spent throughout the country in digging trenches, filling sandbags and placing sticky tape across the window glass. We were doing our fair share of such chores around the school during that high summer of 1939.

     On that eventful Sunday morning the school crocodile wormed it's way down to Ardingly Village Church, where Mr Chamberlain's speech was being relayed through loudspeakers to the congregation. As the Prime Minister read out the declaration I couldn't help but think, "I wonder if it will be like it is in the comic books? ". Little realising that my small life, along with that of all my fellow countrymen, and half the world, was going to be irrevocably altered by the event that had just occurred!

     On our way back to the school we heard the screeching sound of the Air Raid Sirens for the first time advising us to take cover, but it turned out to be a false alarm with nothing happening.

     In retrospect, gearing up for war is a slow and laborious business, especially when one starts from such a low level of preparedness as Britain was at the end of the nineteen thirties, but we certainly didn't appreciate this at the time. After a three week struggle Poland fell, the British Expeditionary Force mobilised, then went across to France and the Phoney War commenced.

     Both my parents had served in France during the Great War. which stared in August, 1914. This started when Germany issued an ultimatum to Russia to de-mobilise within twelve hours. When this was refused, Germany declared war on the 1sr.of August. Two days later Germany declared war on France, as well as Belgium. Britain demanded that Belgium's neutrality be respected and when Germany failed to reply. Britain entered the conflict at midnight on the 4th.of August.

     My father was then twenty-one and had just qualified as a doctor. He immediately volunteered for service, joining the colours very shortly after the commencement of hostilities. As a medical man he served in the front-line with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

     My mother on the other hand, being about three years older than father, and a fully qualified Nursing Sister with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service, was almost immediately sent, over to France, on active service with the first British army to go across to the continent.

     Almost no one, at the fateful time, had any idea of what war would actually be like. It being fully expected that all would be over by Christmas.

Ruth Searle Baker

Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service.

1915

     They were almost immediately caught up in the fighting that occurred when the British Army advanced into Belgium to meet the German onslaught. . How they did it I don't know, but they managed to see each other during the fighting retreat of the British Army from Mons. In all probability father was involved in operating a Casualty Clearing Station, with mother being a member of the staff.

     People have sometimes accused the British of being a warlike race. To this I would pose the question "Why is it therefore that they have seldom been prepared for any of the wars in which they have fought? At the commencement, they always seem to start with a disaster on their hands, that takes years to rectify, whilst they are girding up their loins!

     The Retreat from Mons, was the occasion when the Kaiser referred to "The contemptible British Army". The name stuck and ever after those who fought in the First World War, mostly those who had participated in the retreat, were referred to as "The Old Contemptible's ".

     Parents during the thirties didn't talk very much about their experiences during the war, but from what I can gather mine used to meet and do their courting behind a dung cart in a French farmyard on occasions, seeing each other as, and when, they could get away from their duties. Anyway, they fell in love and got married during a leave in 1915. By this time the front line had stabilised and both sides settled down to that disastrous war of attrition involved in trench warfare.

     The casualties were vast especially during some of the larger battles; when men went "Over the top" charging fixed heavy machine guns with barbed wire entanglements in front of them.

     Throughout 1915 mother was attached to a Casualty Clearing Station that operated just behind the front line. It was here that the wounded received their first attention, but it was inevitable that a considerable number of them died. Sometimes she had to lie out some 70-100 corpses a day, in addition to her normal nursing duties.

     As the war progressed, it reached into nearly every family of Britain and her Empire, with extremely heavy losses being sustained .In 1916 father's nineteen year old brother was killed in action during one of the battles. Whilst one of mothers younger brothers lost his life during an attack in August of 1918.

Henry Searle Baker

Royal Army Medical Corps.

1915

     Father took a belly full of shrapnel on the Somme during the great offensive on the Somme in 1916. This was the occasion when some 60,000 casualties were sustained before lunch.

      Unfortunately father was one of them. He had been out tending some wounded in no-mans land, when a shell exploded nearby.  There he was, left in the mud and muck of a shell hole for a day and a half, before some kind soul found him and managed to get some stretcher bearers to carry him to a Casualty Clearing Station. . But, owing to the high number of wounded, he had to wait for some considerable time before the surgeons operated. Eventually, they cut off his breeches, opened him up and repaired him as best they could. taking out the majority of the metal that had done the damage. However, they didn't manage to get all of it, forever after he was left with a piece that kept on showing up in subsequent x-rays throughout his life. After the surgery he was put on one side, to live or die, as fate decreed.

     Through a friend at Headquarters, my Mother was advised that father had been badly wounded, she immediately applied for leave to go down and see him. This was granted, but it then took her three days, travelling on French railways, before she arrived at the tented accommodation just behind the front-line. There he lay, still with his uniform jacket on and drainage tubes sticking out of the dressing on his stomach. In order to just live in the same tent it became necessary to strip him and wash away all the battlefield mud, changing his dressings and drainage tube.

     He was on the critical list for some time before he was considered well enough to be moved and mother nursed him throughout this desperate period. Had it not been for her capabilities I'm certain that my father would have died, only being remembered as a name on a war memorial!

     However, he spent the next three years having further operations and recuperating in various hospitals. Armistice Day came and went, but it was not until about 1920 that father was fit enough to go into civilian life and resume his medical career.

     Both of my parents having served throughout the war were entitled to the Three Campaign Medals that were subsequently awarded. These affectionately, were referred to as the Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.

     The London to which father returned was still not far from the Victorian image that has since been projected on the movies. Cobbled streets, dense fogs and smog in the winter, from the large number of coal fires. Automobiles were starting to appear in much larger numbers than before the war, but there were still a tremendous number of horse drawn conveyances about, with trams rattling up and down the Camden Road.

     Although father came from quite a prosperous family. Grandfather owning a successful business, involved in the manufacturing, amongst other things of: Microscopes, Binoculars, some of the first X-Ray Equipment, along with other Optical Equipment including gun-sights, periscopes etc. during the war. In addition to some of the first Roll Film Cameras. The company having branches throughout the world. I've no doubt but what he helped father in those early days after the war.

     Father had that rare gift, for that age, of being able to mix, and feel at home, with all strata's of the existing society. He also had the personality and character that would have enabled him to make a fortune had he chosen to practice in Harley Street But he eventually decided to go into practice in the poorer parts of town where he felt his skills would be of more use. These days it would be called a social conscience, but the decision meant that my parents were forced into living in areas of London that although not slums were definitely at the bottom end of the social ladder that leads down to poverty. In the end he set up his plate and did locums in the Camden Town / Walthamstow, Holloway areas, which are some four miles from Trafalgar Square. Life in the early twenties was hard, especially if you were a returning serviceman with little cash in your pocket. Consequently father, then being twenty-seven, had to cut his cloth according to his means.

     As it transpired he never really did settle down, my brother arrived early in 1924. Whilst I was born in December of 1926. This was, the year of the general strike. Father, at the time, was Medical Officer at Holloway Prison. Thereafter, for the next fifteen years, my life seemed to be a constant series of upheavals as we were nearly constantly on the move, with nine different homes, which necessitated my attending six different schools during that period.

     The collapse of the stock market at the end of the Twenties couldn't have helped. The effect was felt by all sections of the community throughout the country during the nineteen thirties. These were the years of the great depression, which swept the world.

     People seem to think that professional people automatically make large incomes. Whilst this is of course true in some cases, it was certainly not the position in ours. With fathers customers nearly all being short themselves, he invariably had problems getting them to settle. their bills, it was a constant struggle.

     In the end he used to just write them off as a bad debt. He just couldn't bring himself to take the matter to court and further deplete their meagre resources. In addition he involved himself in, self-funded cancer research, during the early thirties, which couldn't have helped matters, as this inevitably led to a further draining of funds.

     As with all parents. He gave up a lot, in order for my brother and myself to receive the best education that he could possibly afford. But consequently, there always seemed to be a shortage of cash in our household. , throughout that most difficult decade .

     It was very much a disciplined age with children definitely being,"Seen but not Heard ". Any infringement of the house rules brought short and sharp retribution down upon ones head in the form of a spanking.

     As was the custom with the British middle class, I was packed off to a Public (Boarding) School from the tender age of seven. But, not before I had experienced three terms at various local state schools, where I was considered to be posh! This came about owing to my manners, combined with the way that I spoke. In due course this led to all sorts of problems, not only with the pupils but with the masters too! But it did teach me to stand up for myself and I learnt how to get on with other people at an early age.

     Empires are not built without the willingness of the citizens to serve its end. You, the reader, may say that I've been brainwashed, and I probably have! But I will always consider that the British Empire, despite all it's injustices and inequalities, was a force for good in this world and a means of bringing the benefits of civilisation, justice and development, to millions of people throughout the world.

     At the beginning of the century the British Public School system, via the Universities, produced the majority of the Officers who were sent out by the Foreign Office, to control and administer these vast tracts of land and their peoples. It being nothing unusual to find a twenty five-year-old Englishman completely in charge of an area twice the size of England.

     So, at an early age whilst at school. As one's aptitude became apparent, you were streamed into Science if you were headed for the Armed Services. Or the Classics, if you were headed for Colonial Service.

     People are envious of the advantages of a boarding school education. But they seldom consider that it is the discipline that the child undergoes at home, and throughout his education, which produces the self-discipline that enables academic results to be achieved.

     Although I can't say that it was particularly successful in achieving any academic excellence in my own case during the years that I was at school. In later life it left me with a legacy of a desire for knowledge which is with me to this day. This has proved to be an extremely useful attribute, in this constantly changing world.

     At boarding school, nearly every single moment of ones waking life was organised, from the time that one arose in the morning until the time that one retired at night. Cold baths every morning winter and summer. Woe to those who tried to escape this first challenge of the day, they were given three of the best on their bare bums. Breakfast and a church service quickly followed this. Lessons until lunchtime. Lessons in the afternoon, except on sports day. Supper followed by prep before retiring for the night.

     Saturdays were also for sport or Cadet Corps activities. Sundays found us all dressed up in our best suits, which consisted of the following: -. Striped long trousers, bum freezer jacket with a stiff, starched, white Eton collar (goodness, how I struggled with those front and rear collar studs and cuff links), with black tie. The whole lot surmounted with a straw boater complete with a ribbon in the school colours. With the school being church endowed we attended three church services during the day.

     Never a dull moment, but once again discipline was strict, with the cane being in nearly constant daily use, on someone or other. ! The housemaster administered this punishment; needless to say I got my fair share of this commodity during the years that I was there.

     In Britain, out of all the types of education that are now available, a public school education is still the most desired. Mind you, conditions have altered considerably since my time. Parents will pay a fortune to ensure that their offspring receive, what they perceive, is the best education in the world.

     But for me the holidays became a problem, as I seemed to live in two separate and distinct worlds. At school I knew exactly where I was in the scheme of things, with nearly every waking moment organised. But at home it was a completely different matter. Both of my parents were busy and I had no school friends who lived locally.

     When I got bored with being by myself, I was just told to "go out and play ". But with whom and with what? My pocket money, during those early years was not the highest in the world being only sixpence per week. However, I did manage to supplement my income, as I grew older, with my first business venture. This came about through using an orange box cart I had made, to collect the horse dung that littered the street in those days. Once I had collected a load, we used to go around door to door, selling it to people for their window box flowers. Not a highly profitable venture, but with the basic commodity being free, combined with there being very few overheads, we managed to make a few pennies extra.

     In the end who I played with was decided for me. I joined a local gang of street urchins who roamed the streets in those days causing havoc! I hasten to add that there was nothing vicious about these gangs in those days. The odd punch-up with other children, scrumping (stealing apples from other peoples gardens) expeditions. That sort of thing, not the serious gang warfare that seems to go on these days.

     But first I had to join the gang and for my entrance it was decided that I should steal something from F.W.Woolworth, whilst the gang looked on. Friday came; I stole a tin opener from the open counter. This was mainly because it was the first thing that came to hand. But having been observed by The Gang, I was duly admitted into their company. . Unfortunately when I got home I realised that I had no use whatsoever for a tin opener. So, next day I returned it to the store and asked for my money back, saying that my mother had bought it by mistake! I was refunded the sixpence that I promptly hid in a sock!

     The thirties were great years for the dream world of the cinema. Early in the decade I used to go off to the children's programmes on a Saturday morning, to watch some of the classic silent movies. The Perils of Pauline, Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy, Tom Mix and Trigger, I saw them all.. Can't say that I was very interested in Rudolph Valentino during those years! With a piano playing the background music just below the screen, it became quite an amusing show as the audience had full participation. The villains were hissed, the heroes were cheered, and everyone drummed on the wooden floor with their feet when the 7th.Cavalry arrived! . Shades of the Victorian Music Halls, which were still in vogue during the thirties.

     Then, with the arrival of the talkies came a revolution. Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, the Broadway Follies, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple and suchlike. How we enjoyed the make believe world that they represented. , also extremely good value. A main feature film, a second "B" class film, a Variety show, and a gentleman who came up from the bowels of the Pits, playing an organ. All for a price that would amaze you ,if only I could remember what it was ?

     No refrigerators for us in those days, fresh food was kept on a marble slab in the larder, with milk being purchased every day. No washing machine either, all the laundry was done by hand on a scrubbing board. On days when it was raining it was hung from a drying frame suspended from the ceiling in the kitchen. It was then ironed by means of a flat iron, heated up on the gas hob.

     Formica hadn't been invented. So, the kitchen table was either plain scrubbed wood, or covered with oilcloth . No wind up gramophone in our house either . At night we used to listen to the radio, which constantly wheezed owing to the atmospheric conditions.

     Heating was by means of either a coal fire in the grate , there being one in every room .. Alternatively, there was a gas fire in three of the rooms. Or, one could use the two bar electric fires that had been introduced. But whatever method you used, it was certain to be very chilly when the winter winds descended. And blew through all the cracks in the house .

     The years of peace rolled by so quickly, but suddenly, so it seemed, Germany invaded Poland and Britain was at war once again.

Photo To Come

174 Camden Road London

     Nestling on the corner of Camden Road and Murray Street this is where we lived during the blitz. It was built sometime about 1860 I should imagine , and had all mod cons for the time . This included a Dumb Waiter that lifted your food from the kitchen ( in the semi basement kitchen ,right up to the top floor . In addition , it had a primitive form of intercom system with tubes running throughout nearly every room . You blew down the tube , this caused a whistle to sound at the other end . You removed the whistle at your end and carried on your conversation. It was most effective.

     He kitchen had a bell system that was connected with every room in the house so that the maid could be called when necessary . One found out what room required service through a numbered box high up on the wall.

     All the larger rooms had fireplaces installed and there was a coal hole in the pavement outside into which the coal-man used to tip a couple of tons ,once a year .

     You will notice some of the windows on the side have been bricked up . This was owing to a window tax that was introduced sometime in the 19th.Century . Lots of people refused to pay and bricked up their windows .

     The original lighting was gas and all the fittings were there throughout the house. When they installed the electricity , in about 1926 ,they just seemed to attach the wires over the outside of the plaster ,which didn't make for a very neat job.

     The house was split into three flats . We rented the semi basement and the ground floor which was used as fathers Surgery and Consulting Room .

     There was a back garden but we were not allowed there as it was retained by the owner of the house who lived in the top flat . The picture was taken about four years ago .

Click Here to Go To Chapter One

----- David Newton Searle-Baker

        searle@cis.co.za

Or Click here to Go to Chapter Two, or Chapter Three

LINKS

Henry Searle-Baker, Photo, Royal Army Medical Corps, 1915

Ruth Searle-Baker, Photo, Royal Army Nursing Corps, 1915

BACK TO JUSTIN ORAL HISTORY AIR FORCE BIOGRAPHIES HISTORY PAGE

Please Share your Stories! E-mail the Curator to share or discuss or with any questions! 1