The damage wrought by war can be a lifelong legacy of mental turmoil. Reginald Dack Baker (originally from Norwich) served in the Royal Australian Field Ambulance regiment from August 1914 to near the end of the war. During that time he served in some of the bloodiest theatres of war, including the Western front and Gallipoli.

Returning to Australia after the war, in 1923 he was sectioned and was an patient at the Goodna Asylum in Brisbane. Upon his release he came back to his native city, Norwich and lived there for the rest of his life (dying in the 1960s).

This blog attempts to make some sense of the remarkable collection of six journals he compiled. They betray an obsession with the idea that radio waves were being used to control and kill innocent people. In places there are brief references to his service in WW1. There are also letters from a 'sweet heart' who he left in Australia, Kitty.

For Reginald Dack Baker the legacy of his war years was a life sentence of mental ill-health and obsessive delusion. It is a tragedy.

Monday, 20 July 2009

A Possible Date of Emigration

Reginald Dack Baker's enlistment details in his War Service Records tell us that he was 25 years and 5 months old when he enlisted in August 1914, so he must have been born in 1889. I have just been looking through the outward-bound Passenger Lists from England, and there is only one person by the name of William Baker who, born in 1889, subsequently emigrates to Australia prior to 1914. The year of emigration is 1909, which - if it is our (William) Reginald Baker - makes him 19/20 when he decides to go to Australia. The only other detail I can ascertain (without purchasing this record - which I am currently in no financial position to do!), is that the ship departed from London, arriving in Brisbane. Everything seems to fit!

Another small piece of the puzzle...

I've just been doing a bit of online trawling for further information about Reginald Dack Baker, and have found some pictures of the ship which transported his unit from Australia in September 1914. Click on the link for more information -> Rangatira

Thursday, 25 June 2009

How The Books Ended Up In My Hands...

To read the blog introduction, click HERE

© Evening News 24, 28th July 2006

In early December 2007 a friend of mine who was working as a builder, restoring the Scientific Anglian bookshop down St Benedict Street, told me about some 'weird' books which him and his workmates had found in the attic of the old shop. Intrigued, I asked to see the books, and as soon as I saw them I realised that they were a unique collection. I was concerned that they stay together as a collection, and that they be looked after. To be honest, I also realised that there was a really interesting story here. So it was that I spent some of my first wage packet from my new job on acquiring the collection - a purchase which greatly pleased the builders incidently!

One of the six volumes I purchased in December 2007.

Subsequent to this, I discovered that the volumes had been acquired by the old owner of the bookshop, Norman Peake, in the early 1970s. Apparently, in the midst of his amazing, higgle-di-piggledy warren of a shop, he read through them with great interest (indeed, I think that there is a small example of his writing on the inside cover of the earliest volume, where he notes the date-range of the subject matter contained therein).

Mr. Norman Peake, proprietor of the Scientific Anglian bookshop. © Evening News 24, 28th July 2006

At some point in the future I intend to donate this collection to the Norfolk Studies Reserve Collection at the Forum library in Norwich. This is a wonderful public resource, and I cannot think of a more appropriate place for it to end up.


Tuesday, 23 June 2009

War Service

To read the blog introduction, click HERE.

On the 20th August 1914, the 25 year old William Reginald Dack Baker, enlisted in the Royal Australian Field Ambulance. He went on to serve in some on the field in some of the most terrible battles of the First World War. In the midst of the carnage, brave men like Reginald risked their young lives to save others - often in the thick of the fighting.

Fortunately for us, there is a free online service called, 'Mapping Our Anzacs', which allows us to view the complete war service record for veterans of Gallipoli like Baker. Here's the link to his records on the site -> MAPPING OUR ANZACS

At this stage of my research I don't know if his wartime experiences were the catalyst for his subsequent incarceration in the Goodna Mental Hospital in the 1920s, but it is plausible that being a hands-on witness to so much suffering might have been the cause of subsequent mental health problems. Until I find a way to get access to the records at Goodna in Queensland, Australia, this will remain one of the unanswered questions about this story. In the meantime, however, here is a link to some excellent radio programmes which discuss different aspects of the hospital's history -> All In The Mind

POSTSCRIPT: I have just found the following reference to the death of Reginald's younger brother, Ernest:
'Here is the Private (Lance Corporal) 241781, 1/5th Battalion (Territorial), Northumberland Fusiliers. Died in France 14th November 1916. Age 20. Enlisted Norwich. Youngest son of Robert and Elizabeth Jenner Baker of 8 Valentine Street, Norwich. Formerly 2946, Norfolk Regiment. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France'
[Source: Norwich Cathedral Boys Model School Roll of Honour,]

No Doubt About it...

Sergeant Reginald Dack Baker of the Royal Australian 3rd Field Ambulance, A Squadron.

Click HERE for blog introduction.

A friend recently asked me an interesting question regarding Reginald Dack Baker's work - and I quote -: "did he perhaps have moments when he questioned his beliefs and perhaps published the volumes as a heavy handed warning to others?"

First of all, just to clafity matter: the volumes themselves were never published - they are a private collection; and, I think, were compiled with a mind to posterity. In creating his volumes of 'scrapbooks', I think that he may have hoped that the evidence substantiating his allegations of death rays would be found in the future, and that his quest would be vindicated - albeit, posthumously. Having said that, I know that Mr. Baker did publish and distribute various 'warning' leaflets locally, as well as writing letters to major political figures. of the day.

Did he, then, experience moments of doubt? Looking at the surviving evidence -and, if we are to take them as a reliable reflection of Mr. Baker's position - I would note that he never once questions his own beliefs - not ever. My impression is of a man completely convinced of his views. However, perhaps there is an element of heroism in his response to the 'truth' as he saw it - even if it was, in fact, a delusion.

Given that he genuinely believes the electro-death ray conspiracy, he does as much as any individual could to warn the world. For instance, he writes to the queen, Winston Churchill, Stanley Baldwin etc, asking for them to investigate this 'tragedy'. From his perspective he must have realised that this might put him at great personal risk; namely, that he might have been committed to another asylum - this time, perhaps, for life. He must also have lived with the genuine fear that he too would be targetted by the death rays. Perhaps, however, it was simply that he was in the grip of an obsession, and that he was unable to be silent.


Monday, 22 June 2009

Inside the Pages...(click on images to enlarge)

Click HERE to go to blog introduction.

One of the leaflets - Baker's attempt to warn the world about the conspiracy - , which recur throughout the volumes

Typical example of Baker's montage style.

A reference to Baker's time tending to the wounded and dying 'boys' on the Somme battlefield...

Photo of Baker - note red blot to the left of his picture. These recur throughout the volume, and are often rubbed so that the grain of the paper flakes.


Handling "Insane Delusions"

An undated photo of Reginald Dack Baker.

Reginald Dack Baker believed that the medical establishment was involved in a massive conspiracy to murder innocent people by means of electrical waves. He would often refer to the fact that others dismissed his accusations as "insane delusions" (indeed, one of the volumes is entitled, "My Insane Delusions"). It is inescapable that, no matter how sensitively I handle the story of his life, I have to state my position very clearly; namely, that I believe that there is no basis in reality for these beliefs, and that in my opinion - although an educated, sensitive and intelligent man - he was, in fact, obsessively deluded.

I sometimes wonder what he would think if he could forsee that his works would fall into the hands of someone who denied his life work in this way. I suspect that he would have been infuriated. Does this mean that it is wrong for me to be in possession of this work? I think not. After all, one doesn't have to agree with the contents of a book to read it and own it, any more than one does with a dead person's letters. What is crucial here, is to treat the person's life and work with respect - and that is precisely what I intend to do.

I am not here to judge him in any way. The truth is that I have an immense respect for Reginald, and I sincerely hope that this is reflected in this blog. I feel that I am the custodian of a body of man's life work. In time, I intend to accession the volumes to a public archive, but, for now, I want them to hand; to study and to reflect upon. I want to draw out some of the material that I feel is important. After all, this really is a unique and remarkable body of work!
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