People on board
BAKER, Anthony Francis
Anthony Francis Baker was born on the 12th of October 1901 at Spunkane, near Waterville in County Kerry to Albert Edward Baker and Maria F O’Sullivan. Albert was born in England and was working as a Telegraphist in the Waterville Cable Station while Maria, from Valentia, had been a National Teacher when she married. Anthony was the youngest of their five children and the eldest son, Alfred, was also a Telegraphist.
By 1900 telegraphic communication was well established, with both European and transatlantic underwater cables laid. With commercial success came competition, not least in Kerry. The Waterville station was owned by an American company, the Commercial Cable Co., while from 1911 the Valentia and Ballinskelligs stations were owned by the Western Union Telegraph Co. The outbreak of war in 1914 brought two major changes to these stations. One was the volume of traffic increased enormously, meaning staff numbers increased and long hours of work were required. Secondly, censorship was imposed and censors or ‘Post Office Technical Staff’ were present in the stations, eleven in Valentia and six in Waterville. Each station was surrounded by barbed wire and kept under military guard.
The Irish School of Telegraphy was set up in Cork by Thomas O’Sullivan, uncle of Anthony Baker, who had worked in the Waterville station. The curriculum provided “training for cable as well as wireless telegraphy, and students can qualify for shore, sea or air appointments”, according to the School’s advertising. In October 1918 Anthony Baker had just finished his initial training in Cork and was on his way to London to take up an appointment with the Commercial Cable Co. He was accompanied by Anthony Jones and Ralph Murray who had also just finished their training in Cork. The fathers of all three worked as Telegraphists in Waterville station. All three young men stayed the night of the 9th in the Grosvenor Hotel in Dublin and took the early boat train to Kingstown on the 10th.
Another group of three Telegraphists was also on board the Leinster. William Heller, Thomas Richards and Wilfred Paul were all from Penzance and were working in the Valentia station. They were destined for a holiday at home in Cornwall. The two groups may have known each other already, and in an affidavit to a probate hearing on Anthony Baker in December 1918, Thomas Richards said that they met up on board the ship. Of the six, only Richards survived the sinking, though the bodies of Anthony Jones and William Heller were recovered. It was a sister of Anthony Baker, who was nursing in Dublin, who identified the body of Anthony Jones.
Because Anthony Baker’s body was not recovered his father had to go to court to apply for a grant of letters of administration of his estate. In his affidavit to the court Thomas Richards relived the moments after the ship was torpedoed. He and Wilfred Paul were about to jump into the water when Anthony Baker appeared and said “Hello old man. Goodbye.” Richards never saw Anthony Baker again and believed that he had gone down with the ship.