Richard Baker was born in the hamlet of Uppacott, Dowland about 1872. His father was also Richard Baker who had married Elizabeth Baker from Dolton about 1849. Richard, who had come from Iddesleigh, and his wife soon started a family of eight children, of whom Richard junior was the last. After Richard’s marriage to Alice Mary Brook from Winkleigh about 1889, they lived in White House Dowland where Richard was a carpenter, and where they had their first child Louisa. Later the family moved to Winkleigh where they are recorded in the 1901 census. Richard and Alice now had five children and were living in the Eggesford Road and Richard was a self employed road contractor at only age 29. All the children were receiving the best education that could be had at Winkleigh school, well known in the area for its success, with young son William indeed starting school at the age of 3 and staying on until 3rd April 1912 when he was 14 and could stay no longer. By 1911 Richard’s first three daughters had left home leaving Mabel, William, Frederick and Edith who was just 4. On his army pension papers that have happily survived to tell us something of his life, Richard recorded as his next of kin his wife and simply ‘8 children’. In 1911 Richard was an agricultural labourer, and between 1911 and 1914 the family moved to the Exeter Road.
It appears from his attestation papers that Richard had already served with the 4th Volunteer Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment with the army number 704 before being transferred pre-war to the Volunteer Reserve. Others in the village had done the same, William Vanstone for one, whose name appears on the Memorial Cross. The Volunteer Battalions had originated in May 1881 under the Childers Reforms, undertaken by Secretary of State for War Hugh Childers, who had restructured the infantry regiments of the British army.
The Territorial Army, created as a result of the Haldane reforms in 1906, had envisaged a force of 300,000 men in fourteen large infantry divisions including field artillery and ancillary services with the Yeomanry Regiments providing a matching 14 cavalry brigades. The Territorials were designed to be the main force in home defence - to repel enemy coastal raids and deter the threat of a possible invasion. Service overseas was to be strictly on a voluntary basis. The Territorial Force came into existence on 1st April 1908, and was initially very successful in attracting recruits, responding both to the national mood regarding German expansion of their fleet following the launching of British super-battleships, the ‘Dreadnoughts’ and the fact that the annual camp provided young men with 15 days paid holiday which their employers were constrained to permit, though there were many complaints about this in many areas of employment. By 1911, however, recruiting had declined. This was partly the result of poor or obsolete equipment and resources, leading to a poor standard of training and unwillingness by regular army officers to serve as adjutant to a Territorial unit. Many men failed to reengage after their first four years so that by 1913 80% of the force had less than four years service experience, and some 20% were under the age of 19, the minimum age for overseas service. Up to the outbreak of war only 7% of the territorials had taken the Imperial Service Obligation, and the whole force was 63,000 men short of establishment. The picture of course changed immediately on the outbreak of hostilities when thousands immediately enlisted or re-enlisted in the Territorials. Dates when Richard served in the Devon Regiment Volunteer Force are unclear and he might have left for the reserve even before 1908, but he would have regarded himself as an ‘old soldier’ when the war broke out, and very soon turned to the possibility of rejoining his old battalion, now the 4th Devons. Meanwhile, William Baker, still only aged 16, decided to follow his father’s example, enlisting under age in the 4th Devons, thus serving in India. It is possible, even likely that he was able to survive the war by avoiding the move to Mesopotamia in December 1915 on grounds that he was far too young to enter a war-zone.
Although the Territorials had repeatedly been told before the war that they were merely being asked to form a force for Home Defence it was quickly recognized by Lord Kitchener that they would be needed for much wider service, partially trained though they were. However, overseas service remained voluntary and in order to preserve the Territorial forces (rather than decimate them by transferring the volunteers to New Army battalions) the conditions of service were quickly altered - much to the hostility of many parents who were violently opposed to the idea of their sons serving overseas in a war area. The young men themselves, however, were keen to join the great adventure, and in the three Territorial Battalions of the Devons most men immediately volunteered. By August 31st those who had failed their stricter overseas medical examination, together with those who wished to remain as Home Service men or were already too old to go overseas, were returned to their depots to serve as a nucleus for a second-line Territorial battalion that was being raised. For those who had volunteered and who remained in camp, hopes of going to France were dashed on 16th September when the battalions received its orders to proceed to India. The order was accompanied by a special message from the King to console them for losing the honour of being among the first Territorial units sent to reinforce the B.E.F. The Battalions sailed on 9th October landing at Karachi on 11th November.
Once the 4th Battalion had left for India Richard Baker took the opportunity on 26th October 1914 of finding a way to serve the Regiment, even though he was even too old to join the nucleus of the 4th Devons who had remained behind to eventually form the basis of a second line battalion, the 2nd/4th. Instead he was embodied, with army number 3133, in the 101 Protection Company of the Devonshire Regiment, trained for Home Service defence in case of a German invasion, an early version of the World War II Home Guard. He remained, of course, at home throughout until his discharge from the army on July 4th 1916, by then aged 43. During this time he received a new number, 20263 which is recorded on his final Statement of Service at that time. He was entitled to a gratuity of £5, as a Class II National Reservist registered before 11th August 1914, which he already received in August 1915.
Richard had now served for 1 year and 253 days, but felt he was no longer strong enough for the training and the parades that were required. On October 26th 1914 he had appeared before a medical board in Exeter, and the certificate shows that he had been passed as fit, but for discharge on July 4th 1916 he had to go to London to be examined, on 23rd June 1916. He had written down his age as 46 for the occasion, but the matter was corrected. Described as ‘prematurely old and decrepit’, he was classed as medically unfit to serve, stressing ‘deficient teeth and chronic dyspepsia, the origin of which was uncertain’.
The final document that illustrates Richardís war service is dated 6th July 1916 when at the time of discharge he applied by letter for a pension to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, an application forwarded to the O/C 101 Protection Company, 4th Devons. Needless to say the application was rejected, but we can be thankful that the attempt was made. As a result, Richard Baker’s military documents were preserved in Pension Records, and so escaped the London Blitz which had resulted in the destruction at Somerset House of some 75% of the records of soldiers who had served in the First World War.
18 August 2012