Five telegrams: The remarkable story of one Suffolk soldier’s involvement in World War One
PUBLISHED: 07:30 07 November 2018 | UPDATED: 08:42 07 November 2018
(c) jjdoyle 2011
The extraordinary story of one Suffolk soldier’s journey through the First World War is revealed in five historic telegrams.
Lionel Baker, known to his fellow soldiers as Louis, from Lavenham, trained as an officer when he enlisted in the autumn of 1914.
Training complete, he joined the Suffolk Regiment as a second lieutenant.
One of Second Lieutenant Baker’s great-nieces Sarah Ridley, who lives in Colchester, came across the five telegrams – handwritten in pencil – a couple of years ago at her uncle’s house.
Sarah, 54, began researching her family’s involvement in the war in 2012 while writing a children’s information book entitled Brothers at War: A First World War Family History, which is used in schools.
The telegrams detail how Second Lieutenant Baker, who was one of four brothers, was wounded several times during the conflict and ended up as a prisoner of war.
Mrs Ridley said: “I never knew the telegrams existed until a few years ago when I saw them at my uncle’s house.
“It’s quite remarkable to read the telegrams which were sent to my great-grandparents during the First World War.”
The Suffolk soldier was sent to the Western Front in February 1916 and one month later the first telegram arrived.
First telegram – March 16, 1916
“Regret to inform you that 2Lt L J Baker 3rd Suffolk Regt was wounded between 1st and 3rd March. Details will be wired when received.
Secretary War Office.”
Second Lieutenant Baker had taken part in an attack on the German front line close to the Belgian town of Ypres, with the aim of capturing a bluff. It was successful, but some men died and others were wounded in the attack.
He suffered a ‘blighty’ wound (serious enough to get the soldier sent away from the fighting but not fatal or permanently crippling), and by the end of August he had recovered and was sent back to his regiment in France.
By this time, his younger brother, Rifleman Maurice Baker of the Fifth London Regiment had been injured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.
Second telegram – April 14, 1917
“Regret to inform you Capt L J Baker 3 Suffolk Regiment admitted 1 Red Cross Hospital Le Touquet April twelfth with severe gunshot wound head. Will send further news when received. Secretary War Office.”
The soldier, now promoted to the rank of captain, had taken part in the Battle of Arras, April 9, 1917.
Thousands of British and Commonwealth troops took part in the battle which started well, but by the end of the assault on May 4 – 150,000 troops had been injured or wounded.
A bullet had gone through Captain Baker’s tin hat, causing a serious head wound.
He received the Military Cross and spent the summer recovering in England at Red Cross established hospitals at Eaton Hall and Hawarden Castle.
In September 1917, he was back in France again on active service.
Third telegram – October 6, 1917
“Regret to inform you 2 Lieut L J Baker MC Suffolk Regt was wounded but remaining at duty Sept twenty six. Secretary War Office.”
Captain Baker had been wounded again but it was not serious enough for him to be sent home and he was treated at a field hospital in France.
Fourth telegram – April 8, 1918
“Regret Capt L J Baker Suffolk regt att Second batt missing march twenty eight no details known. Secretary War Office.”
The news from the front line was not good in the spring of 1918 as the German army launched a series of successful attacks on the British and French armies along the Western Front.
The Times had printed a dramatic report of the German attack at Wancourt, near Arras, which mentioned Captain Baker by name as he and a fellow captain of the Suffolk Regiment desperately tried to hold the line.
Fifth telegram – April 18, 1918
“Happy to inform you your son reported prisoner writing Red Cross.”
The Red Cross found out that Captain Baker had been taken prisoner on March 28 and he spent the rest of the war in Germany at a POW camp.
At first his living conditions were very basic and he wrote in his diary of how weak and hungry he felt, but conditions improved, and he returned home after the war ended in November 1918.
He decided to stay in the army after the war and fought with the Suffolk Regiment in the Second World War.