Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Capt Valentine Henry Baker MC DFC 1888-1942

Valentine Baker was born at Llanfairfechan in North Wales. When the Great War broke out, he enlisted as a dispatch rider, soon to be promoted to the rank of petty officer. In 1915, in the fighting on the beaches of Gallipoli, he was severely wounded by a bullet in the neck. The doctors considered that any operation to remove the bullet would be fatal, as it had lodged near the spinal cord. Baker told them to "leave it alone", and the bullet remained in the back of his neck until the day he died. It must have been a source of continuous discomfort, but he never complained of it - in fact, only his family and a few friends knew anything about it at all. Following this injury he was discharged as unfit, but was soon accepted by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, becoming a second lieutenant before the year was out. In 1916, an opportunity came for an entry into aviation and he was posted to the School of Aero Flying at Reading for flying training. On 25 September, 1916, Baker graduated as a flying officer Royal Flying Corps. A month later he joined the famous 41 Squadron of the R.F.C., at Gosport, with which he was to do all his operational flying and win his Military Cross and later the Air Force Cross.
His first civilian flying job, as a representative of the Vickers-Armstrong Aircraft Company, took him out to the Dutch East Indies, where he subsequently became attached to the Dutch Naval and Military Air Forces in Java as a flying instructor. After three years, he returned to England, but was soon off again, this time to Chile, where once more he combined demonstrations of new Vickers aircraft with flying instruction. On return to England, Baker became flying instructor at the Lancashire Flying Club, which he helped to build up, then chief instructor at the London Aeroplane Club at Stag Lane Aerodrome, Edgware. Baker's last, and most important, teaching job came in 1929, when he opened a school and became chief pilot and instructor for Airwork Limited, at Heston Aerodrome.
Valentine Baker gave up his instruction flying in 1934 to join his friend James Martin in the formation of a new company, the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd. The incomparable flying experience and skill possessed by Baker was of great importance in the development and flight testing of the Company's prototypes. His lessons attracted pupils from all over the world, and many well known public figures including the Duke of Windsor, the Duke of Kent, and Lord Londonderry, at that time Air Minister. Lady Drummond Hay, and the celebrated woman flier Amy Johnson were also two of his better known pupils.