BAKER - FREDRICK - NGA-PUHI - HOKIANGA - NZ - 1908 -------1942
edmondsallan - Hello - Nga Puhi; accountant, military leader, rehabilitation officer, public servant
Frederick Baker was born at Whauwhaukauri, Hokianga, on 19 June 1908, the son of John Francis (Frank) Baker and his wife, Jane Robinson. His father was a bushman but subsequently became a dairy farmer. Baker was of Nga Puhi descent from his mother. He grew to six feet tall and had a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark hair.
Educated at Rawhia School and then at Rawene District High School, he gained his proficiency examination in standard six and the public service entrance examination in 1924. He joined the Public Works Department at Whangarei on 1 October 1924 as a clerical cadet. From his first appointment he was noted as showing promise. He maintained a schoolboy interest in rugby and played for Waikato and the Bay of Plenty.
In 1928 Baker was transferred to Hamilton, where by the end of 1931 he had completed his Professional Accountants’ Examinations. In 1932 he passed the Australian Institute of Secretaries examinations (and became an associate of the institute in 1935). He transferred to the Audit Office in Wellington in January 1933 and assisted the audit of the State Advances Office. On 26 December 1933 at the Presbyterian church in Frankton, he married Edna Mavis Carrie, a dressmaker of Hamilton. There were two children of the marriage. In September 1935 his accounting ability was recognised when he joined the Mortgage Corporation of New Zealand. He became an inspector a year later after it had become the State Advances Corporation of New Zealand. He was later acting accountant in Auckland.
Baker had joined the Territorial Force in 1926, and was a sergeant by 1928 and a lieutenant in June 1931. He served in the mounted rifles in Northland and Waikato, but after moving to Wellington in 1933 he became a reserve officer as there were no mounted rifles units there. He maintained his interest in soldiering through the 1930s, and on 20 May 1939 requested, in view of the uncertain international situation, to transfer to the active list. He was unable to find a posting before the Second World War began, but by November was posted to the 28th (Maori) Battalion as its intelligence officer.
In July 1940, in England, he was promoted to temporary captain and took charge of Headquarters Company. He demonstrated his considerable organising ability in his arrangements for the battalion’s embarkation to Egypt on 3 January 1941. In March the battalion was involved in the disastrous campaign to defend Greece against the Germans. Baker commanded the Reinforcement Company, which took heavy casualties. He himself was captured, but managed to escape. After ‘finding a seaplane which he couldn’t fly, a speed launch which he couldn’t start, and a horse he couldn’t catch’ he was picked up by a Greek truck and taken to an embarkation point.
After rejoining the battalion in Crete he was involved in heavy fighting and took command of its A Company after both senior officers were lost. He was wounded but took charge of other walking wounded and led them ahead of the retreating battalion. He was among the troops taken off Crete by the Royal Navy. In Egypt he was transferred to the 25th Battalion as a company commander. He then rejoined the Maori Battalion as second in command with the rank of major. On 13 July 1942, after Lieutenant Colonel Eruera Love’s death on 12 July, Baker was made temporary lieutenant colonel and given command of the battalion.
He was to command the Maori Battalion until 2 November 1942. During this time General Bernard Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army, to which the New Zealand Division belonged, and Brigadier Howard Kippenberger, the commander of the 5th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, decided to use the Maori Battalion in a pre-emptive strike against an anticipated German attack. It was the first offensive action Baker commanded. He led a patrol to check the route and identify the objective, the El Mreir depression. After one failed attack, the raid he led on 26 August was highly successful and was considered a model operation. He was later given the task of taking the northern edge of the Munassib depression and linking up with the 21st Battalion in a neighbouring depression. The Maori Battalion initially went beyond its objective into enemy territory and was in danger of being surrounded. After reorganisation by Kippenberger, the battalion reached its position on the right flank of the 21st Battalion and defeated an attack by German tanks. Till we meet again - Regards - edmondsallan