Thomas William BAKER (died 24 April 1917)

Born 1879 and died 24 April 1917 torpedoed in North Atlantic, aged 38.

Ian Valentine and Peter Hill

Born in London 1879, son of Tom & Charlotte E. Baker, living in Station Road. Boilermaker Iron Plater. Served as Foreman Plater in the Nigerian Marine Service. Returning to UK on leave from Lagos aboard Elder Dempster vessel S.S. Abosso he died when she was torpedoed by U-43 in North Atlantic 24 April 1917, aged 38, leaving a widow and three children. Named on the Memorial in St Saviour’s Church, Lagos, Nigeria and on Wivenhoe War Memorial as well as in the Merseyside Roll of Honour web site.  This site records him with the rank of a Foreman as though a member of the crew.

The following text is copied from the Mersea Roll of Honour web page.

S.S. Abosso was built in 1912 by Harland & Wolff. She was owned by the Elder-Dempster Line and was 180 miles off Fastnet, on a voyage from Lagos to Liverpool when she was torpedoed on 24th April 1917.
Sixty-five lives were lost. Of these, the CWGC lists the names of twenty-six crewmen who were lost.

The following account of the sinking is taken from ‘The Elder Dempster Fleet in the War’:

 The Abosso sailed from Bathurst on the 14th April, 1917, for Liverpool. Her commander, Captain James T. Toft, had received at Sierra Leone, instructions as to his homeward route. These instructions were to be carried out subject to certain variations communicated by wireless.
 She had on board 127 passengers and a crew of 134 all told, and was carrying mails and a cargo of 3,500 tons of West African produce. At 9-5 p.m. on the night of April 24th, when the vessel was off Bantry Bay, the weather fine, calm and cloudy but dark, she was struck in the neighbourhood of the after part of the engine room and No, 3 hold by a torpedo. She was proceeding at a speed of about 12 knots. The 3rd officer and an apprentice were on the bridge and there was a look-out in the crow’s nest and also one with the gunner standing by the 6in. gun aft. Captain Toft had just left the bridge. Nothing was sighted prior to the accident.
 Immediately the torpedo struck, Captain Toft ordered the “S.O.S.” signal to be sent out, giving the position of his ship; at the same time flares were sent up. The engine telegraph on the bridge was rung up to “stop.” The ship had still considerable way on her, and everyone was soon at his allotted station after the signal was given.
There were eleven life-boats, all of which were being carried outboard at the level of the rail on the boat-deck. For some unexplained reason Nos. 1, 3, and 7 life-boats were lowered away before any order was given by Captain Toft, who knew the inevitable result of launching boats from a ship that was still “under way.” The three lifeboats contained 41 passengers and 23 members of the crew, but no officers, and immediately on reaching the water, they were swamped and all occupants lost.
The Abosso when first hit had taken a list to port, but quickly recovered herself and commenced to take a pronounced list to starboard. Sixty minutes passed and still the Abosso had considerable way, though from her original 12 knots she had slowed down considerably.
At about 10-15 a British destroyer arrived in answer to the wireless calls, but she was unable to approach close to the ship, which continued to forge ahead in a circle, with an increasing list to starboard.
Captain Toft had, at last, to take the great risk of lowering the life-boats despite the movement of the ship. At 10-25 the last boat left the Abosso, which had now heeled over to starboard. The Commander and several members of his crew were carried down with the vessel, but coming to the surface were eventually picked up by the boats. Six survivors who were clinging up to No. 1 boat which was lowered away prematurely and without orders were subsequently picked up by the destroyer.
 It was 8-0 p.m. on 25th April before the survivors were landed – but while the Huns had achieved the task of sinking the ship, they were defeated in their main object, that of deterring British seaman from putting to sea.
What they would have thought had they known the gallant Commander of the fine mail steamer they had sent below the waves on that April night would command her sister ship seven months later when she, too, went the way of nine million tons of British shipping during the war, is something for imagination.
This page was added on 12/06/2015.

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