Fisherman enlisted with Royal Naval Reservist Summons to War

Reprinted from The Packet, August 23, 2018
by Lester Green

Seaman Eliol Baker was fishing on the Labrador when he was summons to the Great War by  Magistrate Frank Somerton. He was fishing with Skipper William Smith of Island Cove, who was also told to report to the HMS Calypso, St. John’s

Seaman Eliol Baker (Photo courtesy Bryan Marsh)

Eliol was oldest son of three siblings born to Robert and Sarah Jane (Clarke) Baker of Heart’s Ease on September 11, 1891. At age 9, Eliol’s father lost his life and he was sent to live with his Uncle and Aunt in Petley. He also spent time being raised by relatives at North West Brook.

During his early teens, he spent time at Grand Falls working at the construction of the mill. Once the construction phase was over, he succeeds in finding employment cutting wood for the company.

Naval records from the HMS Calypso indicates that he enlisted on January 5, 1912 for a period of five years where his name appeared with the spelling “Loyal”. Service with the Royal Naval Reserve allowed him to earn extra money during difficult times. He completed three consecutive years of training at St. John’s for a total of 84 days of naval training before the declaration of the war.

William Churchill and Eliol Baker of Northern Bight. (Photo courtesy of Walter Frost)

According to Eliol’s great-grandson, Bryan Marsh, when the war broke out in the summer of 1914, Eliol was fishing with skipper William Smith of Island Cove on the Labrador coast. Word reached the crew that Britain had declared war on Germany and all Reservists were to report immediately to St. John’s. Accounts by other Reservists on the Labrador that summer were similar. Magistrate Frank Somerton helped spread the word among the schooners that SS Kyle would be steaming along the coast to pick-up all Reservists who did not have the means back to St. John’s. In some cases, the skipper of schooners immediately set sail for home to allow Reservists time to prepare for overseas duty.

Seaman Baker reported and sailed out of St. John’s harbour aboard the SS Franconia on November 6, 1914. Onboard were 33 sailors from the Southwest Arm region. Upon arrival in England, he was assigned to the gunnery school located at Whale’s Island, Portsmouth. He completed 30 days of training and received orders that he was to report to the ship, HMS Patuca, an armed merchant cruiser. The ship was assigned to the 10th Cruiser Squadron and based at Glasgow, Scotland. He spent 29 months associated with this ship tasked with boarding and inspecting ships encountered that were suspected of carrying contraband goods.

Elizabeth (Churchill) Baker, Eliol Baker and their nephew, Charlie Churchill in Hillview during 1956. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Marsh)

He then returned to the HMS Briton (formerly Calypso) at St. John’s where he spent the next seven months. It was during this time period that he married his sweetheart Elizabeth, daughter of John and Mary Hannah Churchill, of Northern Bight. The marriage ceremony was performed at St. Thomas Church, St. John’s on November 7, 1917. He spent one month with his bride and was order to return overseas on December, 1917.

Upon his arrival overseas, he was assigned to HMS Victory, a naval base at Portsmouth, England. The remainder of his naval career overseas was shared between the shore-based naval structures at HMS Victory, HMS Pekin, and Vivid III. It was during his time at HMS Victory that he was assigned to the HMS Croxton, a minesweeper assigned to keeping the English Channel clear of any German mines.

After the war ended, he continued working on the ship until he received orders that he was returning home to St. John’s on March 29. He was demobilized and free to go home to his wife at Northern Bight.

Eliol Baker in his home at Hillview in 1969. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Marsh)

After returning home, he settled in Hillview but continued to work at various times for the Grand Falls paper mill. His great grandson, Bryan revealed that his great grandfather rarely spoke about the war. When asked repeatedly, he is quoted as saying “It was not fit to talk about.” “I had my arse in the water more than once”

Seaman Eliol Baker passed away in August, 1973 and was buried next to his wife at St. Michael’s and All Saint Cemetery, Hillview.

Eliol Baker’s headstone at Hillview.