William John Baker was born in Rochester in July 1893. At the previous census (1891) his family were living at 4, St Peter’s Place, Rochester. His father, Alfred, was an engine fitter aged 23 and his wife was three years younger. They had two small sons who like their mother, were born in Rochester. Alfred was born in Chatham.
In 1901 the family lived at 14, Princes Street, off Delce Lane, in housing which was demolished in the mid-20th century (some photos of this area before the demolition can be seen here). Alfred was now described as a ship fitter aged 33. Ellen was aged 30 and they had five sons and one daughter; Ernest, aged 13; Walter, who was 11; the seven-year-old William; Arthur who was five; Esther aged four; and a two-year-old, Alfred junior. The household also contained Alfred Senior’s younger brother, Walter, who worked as a compositor.
By 1911 the family lived a short distance away from their previous home, at 83, Wickham Street, Rochester. The family now comprised the parents and seven children with the addition of a one-year-old called Ella. The eldest boys were following their father into skilled industrial work: Ernest was now working as a coppersmith for the HM Dockyard’s engineering department and Walter was an iron moulder for a traction engineering firm (perhaps Aveling and Porter). William himself was now aged 17 and worked as a plumber for a house decorating company. Alfred senior was still a ship fitter and also worked at the Chatham Royal Dockyard. Arthur was a solicitor’s clerk at the age of 15.
William joined the Royal Engineers (RE) as a sapper and held the rank of Lance Corporal at the time of his death. His service numbers were 21470 and 314548. His choice of regiment may have been influenced by his training as a plumber as the RE took skilled men into their regiment. He was in the 3rd Reserve Battalion of the RE but it has not been possible to find a detailed record of his military service. All that is available is the statement that he received the British War and Victory medals and the Soldiers Effects Records. From the latter it can be seen that William left a widow called Lilian (Lily) and a daughter named Doris, who was born on 15 May 1913. Lily’s maiden name was Read, and it is highly likely that she was the 15-year-old Lilian Read who lived in Middle Street, Chatham in 1911 and worked as a tailoress for the Axe Brand Sewing Company.
William died in Aldershot on 24 September 1919 at the age of 26. His body was returned to Medway and he was buried near his family in Fort Pitt Military Cemetery, less than a mile from the streets in which he grew up.
1891 England Census [database on-line] Class: RG12; Piece: 657; Folio: 48; Page: 5; GSU roll: 6095767
1901 England Census [database on-line] Class: RG13; Piece: 725; Folio: 46; Page: 15
1911 England Census [database on-line] Class: RG14; Piece: 3896; Schedule Number: 169; Class: RG14; Piece: 3901; Schedule Number: 255.
National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers’ Effects Records, 1901-60; NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 937001-938500; Reference: 576
The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls; Class: WO 329; Piece Number: 505
British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 [database on-line].
FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915