The Soldier's Details
- First Name:
- Arthur Joseph
- Nick Name:
- Regimental #:
- Headquarters Company, No. 3 Platoon
- Place of Birth:
- Coolgardie, Western Australia
- Father's Name:
- Arthur Cornelius Baker
- Mothers's Name:
- Ellen Maria 'Nellie' Baker (nee Vowels)
- Roman Catholic
- Pre-war Occupation:
- Truck Driver
- Epitaph, Labuan Memorial, Panel 18, Age 30.
- Selarang Camp Changi
- 'A' Force Burma, Green Force, No. 3 Battalion
- Camps Thailand:
- Camps Burma:
- Victoria Point, Kendau 4.8km, Thetkaw 14km, Meiloe 75km, Aungganaung, Reptu 30km Camp
- Rakuyo Maru Party, Kumi No. 37
- Cause of Death:
- Lost at Sea
- Place of Death:
- South China Sea
- Date of Death:
Coolgardie boy, and truck driver Joe enlisted AIF 23 Oct 1940 and later joined 2/4 MGB’s Headquarters Company No. 3 Platoon under Commanding Officers Phelps and O’Sullivan.
Joe Baker was selected in Singapore to work on the Burma end of the railway with ‘A’ Force Green Force No. 3 Battalion.
By December 1943 when Burma Thai Railway was completed the Japanese began moving all POWs in Burma south to one of the larger camps. The very sick remained in Burma with the passionate care of POW nursing staff.
Joe was more than likely at Tamarkan Camp and selected by the Japanese as being fit to work in Japan. This group, referred to as the ‘Rakuyo Maru’ Party were moved by train from Thailand through Bangkok to Saigon in French Indo-China (known as Vietnam today). Whlle they were waiting to take a ship from here to Japan the men were accommodated in Saigon, working around the docks. Eventually the Japanese realised the American blockade of Saigon and surrounds was so effective, there was little or no chance of further shipping successfully leaving this coastal area.
The POWs were then moved again by train via Bangkok back to Singapore, where they were billeted at River Valley Road Transit Camp and were again working mostly at the wharves waiting for a ship.
Joe was one of many young POWs who drowned in the South China Sea on 12 September 1944 following the successful American submarine attack on ‘Rakuyo’ Maru and the convoy she was part of. He was 30 years of age.
***** George Trotter remembers his mother, Joe’s sister Eileen Trotter (nee Baker) telling him that in late 1944/early1945 following receipt of the terrible news of Joe’s death on ‘Rakuyo’ Maru she and her sisters went to the pictures at Coolgardie to watch a happy musical, intending to take their minds off the tragedy. Sadly, one of the songs featured in the movie was a favourite of Joe’s, one he used to sing while playing his guitar (which Joe’s family still have). So affected by this song and the memories of Joe the girls began to weep, and had to quietly leave the pictures to walk home.
Eileen and her sisters often spoke of Joe and kept in touch with his wife Mavis up until her death a few decades ago.
Below: Photograph of Joe’s ‘Monterey’ guitar – kept by his sister Eileen.
The elation felt above when the family learned Joe was alive in October 1943, became grief when they learned of his young death in November 1944.
Information from George Trotter….
‘Arthur Cornelius Baker came to WA from Victoria (b. 31/1/1875 Alexandra Vic.) arriving Albany on “Barcoo” 14/1/1898 (Western Mail, Perth, 21/1/1898 p.28).
Arthur worked first at Denmark (he was a wheelwright) and then Coolgardie on the town water supply dept. He later became foreman.
During the early years in Coolgardie,1900-1905 it is likely Arthur boarded at the Vowels’ boarding house and thus married ‘Muddy’ (Ellen Maria) Vowels – also from Vic. After their marriage in Coolgardie in 1905 Muddy’s mother continued with boarding houses and for some years Arthur and Muddy continued to live with her – possibly til as late as 1913, the year Mrs Vowels and her young son (Lt. Phil Vowels MC/Bar 11 Bn KIA 1918) left Coolgardie and moved down to Perth. Arthur and Muddy stayed on in Coolgardie – she running boarding house (Warden Finnerty’s) and Arthur worked on the town water supply. He retired c. 1940 and with his sons was active in local gold claims 1930s-1950. The various Baker boys stayed in gold until 1960s. I remember dollying ore at their ‘Barbara’ mine in 1960.’
The above information kindly provided by family member George Baird Trotter (nephew to Joe Baker and son of Joe’s sister Eileen, September 2022)
Joe was the fourth of five surviving sons born to parents Arthur Cornelius Baker, and Ellen Maria Vowels known as ‘Nellie or Muddy’ who was also from Victoria married 1905 Coolgardie. Joe was one of seven sons with three sisters. A baby brother died.
The family were referred to as the ‘Baker’s Dozen’. Five siblings were involved in the war effort, Joe and the following:
Thomas Reginald Baker ‘Reg’ WX37063, 42nd Landing Craft Coy, AIF at Borneo/Morotai.
Patrick Philip Michael Baker ‘Pat’ WX38609 RAE Borneo, Labuan.
John Patrick Francis Baker ‘Jack/Johnny’ Aircraftsman 82215 RAAF.
Mary Loyola Baker ‘Mickey’ Munitions Worker’ who served at the Small Arm Ammunition Factory ** in Welshpool making ammunition…(George Trotter believes Mary may have been invalided out due to chemical poisoning).
** operated between 1942 and 1945, named Small Arms Ammunition Factory No.6 (MW) which manufactured .303 rifle ammunition.
Below: Joe’s mother Ellen Maria Baker (nee Vowels) and known as Muddy standing outside in the Wardens back garden with Joe’s youngest sister Peg about 1939. Peg is on the right.
The Baker family also endured the tragic loss of a child in 1919.
Joe’s father was employed by Coolgardie Water Board, and he was also involved in mining leases.
Above: Residency which has 6 bedrooms.
In about 1920 the Baker family purchased the ‘Residency’ for 150 pounds. This home was built about 1895 of local sandstone for Warden Finnerty, the first Magistrate and Mining Warden of Coolgardie. The house stands today as a historical building of great interest.
Joe Baker married 20 Dec 1940 to Mavis Theresa Hoddinott of Maylands.
Joe’s army mate Jack Murray WX10796 who was best man at Joe and Mavis’s wedding.
Jack worked on the Burma-Thai Railway surviving to return to Australia at the end of the war.
‘Joe married 20/12/1940 to Mavis Hoddinott of Perth. At that time Joe was fully engaged in training at Guildford, Northam, South Australia and Darwin, sailing for Singapore early 1942 sharing little time together as a couple.
Above: Mavis Baker
Mavis Baker WF14965 joined the AAWMS and served as a clerk at the (110th) Hollywood Hospital until April 1945. Understandably Mavis suffered terribly on hearing of Joe’s death (end of 1944) and was transferred to work in Victoria. Mavis was discharged in 1946 and returned to WA. Mavis remarried.
When it became known 2/4 MG were taken POWs in Singapore Mavis enlisted 15/9/1943. She was a Private in the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (WF14965) and served as an AAMWS clerk at 110th (Perth) Military Hospital, Monash Ave, Nedlands – now Hollywood Private Hospital. She was demobbed in 1946 and later remarried.’
He participated in the local Rifle Club.
Joe’s father Arthur Cornelius died in 1950 and Ellen died in 1954. Both are buried at Coolgardie Cemetery.
Ellen Maria Baker died Coolgardie in 1954.
Dedicated by Family Relations on 15 August 2015
Biography presented during plaque dedication:
‘Private Arthur Joseph Baker of 2/4 Machine Gun Battalion was born in Coolgardie Western Australia on 13 January 1914 to Ellen and Arthur Baker.
In his growing years, Arthur attended St Anthony’s convent and in his out-of-school time enjoyed tennis, rifle shooting and motor bike racing.
He was very mechanically-minded, to the point where he built an aluminium race car body and installed a used motor cycle engine in it.
He successfully applied for a position with the Goldfields Public Works Division and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 23 October 1940, following the declaration of war.
Posted to the 2/4 Machine Gun Battalion their initial training was carried out in Blackboy Hill Military Camp before a move to Northam camp.
With war looming in the Pacific, the battalion executed their famous march from Northam to Fremantle to join their troop ship bound for Singapore.
The Japanese swept through Malaya to Singapore in 70 days and, despite a desperate last stand, the survivors of the 2/4th were taken as prisoners of war.
In 1944, after years building the Burma railway under the Japanese it was decided they were needed in Japan and they were loaded aboard the ‘Rakuyo’ Maru which sailed for Japan.
With no identification that she was a POW ship, the Rakuyo Maru was attacked by an American submarine on 12 September 1944.
Sinking rapidly, the crew saved themselves leaving the POWs locked in the holds.
Private Arthur Joseph Baker, service number WX8720 of 2/4 Machine Gun Battalion, died as a prisoner of war in the South China Sea on 12 September 1944.
He was 30 years of age and is listed on the Labuan Memorial, Labuan.‘
***** George Baird Trotter of East Fremantle, WA
‘Joe Baker was my uncle…he died 4 years before I was born…my mother was Eileen Baker, sister to Joe (Eileen married a boarder at the Warden’s house run by the Bakers – i.e. – Muddy and the girls).
Dad was George Baird Trotter who was a Scottish/English migrant who, with his family came to WA between 1923-1929. Dad had mechanical skills and was working in power houses at various mines. He was running the Tindal’s powerhouse and boarding with the Baker’s when he and mum married in mid-1941. Dad and mum went to Melb. for dad’s RAN training and after the war came back to Kalgoorlie – dad ran the Hannan’s Brewery power station until 1954 when we came down to Fremantle. I grew up in Kalgoorlie/Coolgardie and often stayed at the Warden Finnerty house. So, I am a little Kalgoorlie/Coolgardie boy who is familiar with the Baker Family history.’
Below: Joe’s sister Eileen outside the Wardens House. She is mother to George Baird Trotter.
- River Valley Road Camp - Singapore
- Selarang Camp Changi - Singapore
- Tamarkan, Tha Makham 56k - Thailand
- Aungganaung,105Kilo - Burma
- Kendau, Kandaw, 4 Kilo - Burma
- Meilo, 75 Kilo, 340k - Burma
- Reptu, Retphaw, 30Kilo 385k - Burma
- Saigon - French Indo China
- Victoria Point, Kawthoung - Burma. \'A\' Force, Green Force No. 3 Btn
- Thetkaw 14 Kilo - Burma