Professor Michael J Baker TD FRSE

  College: King's College
  Subject: Geography
  Class of: 1958

(Left: Michael Baker, Right: Troop Commander, Dick Scullard)

Freshers week 1953

As both my father and sister had attended Kings College it was assumed, automatically, that I would follow in their footsteps.

Having attended seven different schools, due to my family moving around as a result of the war and its aftermath, the only subjects I had studied consistently were English, Geography and History which made a BA in General Arts my only realistic choice of subject. With a Higher Exhibition from Kent County Council, I was offered a place for entry in September 1953 and so made my way to Newcastle for Freshers Week.

Although I was not yet 18, I had been called up for National Service which was deferred for two years so that I could take up my university place. In anticipation of this I decided that it would be sensible to join the Durham University Offices Training Corps and went to the Drill Hall for an interview.

At the door I was met by a most impressive man in full military uniform who saluted me smartly and asked “Would you rather walk or ride, Sir? This seemed to be a fairly simple question, so I replied “Ride”. “Right, then it’s the Royal Artillery for you.” And I was enrolled as a Gunner on the spot.

While I joined several other clubs and societies, the OTC had two major advantages over all the others. They paid you to attend and had a bar whose prices were below those charged by the Students Union.

Within two months of joining I went on my first exercise, a shoot on the Otterburn artillery ranges and, with no particular expertise, I was appointed a No. 6 on a 25 pounder field gun. Originally, this was an important job as it involved looking after the six horses that pulled it. While they had disappeared long ago in favour of mechanised transport, it was a useful job for a spare man.

Arriving in the pouring rain (always the case at Otterburn) the Troop deployed and I took my place kneeling behind the gun with nothing particular to do. And then I heard my name: “Mike Baker, Mike Baker, Mike Baker”. I couldn’t identify where the call was coming from but it was insistent so I set off to look for the source and finished up at the Gun Position Officer’s HQ. Here I was asked “What do you want?” “I am Mike Baker” I replied only to be told that under no circumstances was I to leave my gun without a direct order from the commander. I had deserted my post and was put on a charge.

Later in the day I was called before the Commanding Officer to explain this dereliction of duty-probably punishable by death. With only two months service, how was I to know that Mike and Baker were letters in the communications alphabet that were used when setting up radio connections as a Call Sign? The decision was “Admonished”-the military equivalent of a slap on wrist- and an injunction not to do it again.

Thereafter, my service was almost exemplary and when I was called up I was sent to Officer Cadet School and commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery . As a result of my training in the OTC I passed out top in the gunnery examinations and offered first choice of the available postings. I was advised to apply for Ship to Shore Gunnery Control Officer, Mediterranean Fleet. Given that the Royal Navy had not fired on the shores of the Mediterranean since 1945, this was essentially a supernumerary appointment with lots of perks including a cabin on the Vanguard and membership of the Wardroom. It was not to be.

Anthony Eden declared war on Egypt and the likelihood of the Fleet bombarding the coast became a reality so ‘my job’ was given to a Major with appropriate experience. Instead, as an older ‘new’ officer I was posted to a Training Regiment in North Wales as a replacement. But that’s another story!

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