PEOPLE IN PORTSMOUTH

 

Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

ROBERT CUNYNGHAME SLADE-BAKER
 
In 1914 a new Commander, Brigadier General Arthur Slade-Baker, arrived at Gunwharf, Portsmouth. Moving to Portsmouth with him was his wife Caroline but it is not known how many, if any, of their three children accompanied them to the new family home at 4 Merton Road, Southsea. One of those children was Robert Cunynghame Slade-Baker.
 
The Brigadier had been born on Jersey in 1864 and had presumably spent most of his adult life in the army. At the age of 31 he found himself in Valetta, Malta where in 1895 he married Caroline Fisher Heap. She was the daughter of George Harris Heap, U.S. Consul at Constantia and had been born at Philadelphia, USA, in 1867. The couple remained in Malta for at least two years after the marriage as Robert Cunynghame and his twin brother John B. were born there in 1897. A third son, Arthur was born later.
 
At the 1901 census, Robert, John and their parents were back in the UK, living in Plumstead and in 1911 at Kensington. Sometime probably between those dates Robert was sent to Clifton College and then went on to Sandhurst which suggests that he would have spent very little time in Southsea. He was gazetted 2nd Lt. May 1915 and served with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, arriving at the Western Front in June 1916. He took part in several bombing raids and twice made a reconnaisance on enemy tranches, being wounded on a third and invalided home.
 
In 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross (London Gazette No. 29824 page 7 published 14/11/1916) - 'For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led raids against the enemy on several occasions with great skill and determination. He has done fine work throughout.'
 
Meanwhile, Robert's mother Caroline was making her own significant contribution to the war effort by collecting "Chintz bags for the wounded" in which wounded soldiers could keep their treasures/letters/pay book/photos etc with them when they were moved from hospital to hospital. She was also mentioned in St. Thomas's Parish Magazine for packing parcels for Prisoners of War at the Soldiers Institute and being central to the establishment of a small Red Cross hospital.

In June 1917 Robert returned to the front line where he was made Sniping Officer. He was mentioned in despatches as well as in the Regimental Diary:-
 
15/8/17 - France, Front Line Trenches, CAMBRIN RIGHT
Weather very fine. Lieut R C S BAKER MC and No 16153 Pte BARNES carried out two valuable daylight reconnaisances of the enemy line, crossing HOGS BACK craters from posts L6 and L9. At 11.30pm D Special Coy RE successfully projected 10 tons of lethal gas on FOSSE 8 and other targets. Enemy's retaliation feeble. Casualties NIL.
 
16/8/17 - France, Front Line Trenches, CAMBRIN RIGHT
Weather very bright and fine. Lt BAKER with Pte Barnes and 37618 Pte Harris carried out another daring daylight patrol, entering the German lines at MAD POINT and bringing back useful information. At 11.45 pm the 46th Divn on our Right bombarded the enemy lines with Thermite, supported by artillery. Casualties 1 OR killed and 2 wounded by an enemy "pineapple" in L6 post.
 
17/8/17 - France, Front Line Trenches, CAMBRIN RIGHT
Weather fine. Visibility exceptionally good. Lieut BAKER, with 2/Lieut A W DOLBY, Cpl A HAINGE and Ptes COLLINS and BARNES completed his daylight reconnaisance of the enemy lines, entering the German trenches at G.5.c.2.4 and working South for 200 yds, also investigating the crater and trenches at G.5.c.3.7. A quiet day. Casualties nil.
 
until
 
19/8/17 - France, Front Line Trenches, CAMBRIN RIGHT
Weather fine and warm. About 6 pm Lieut R C S BAKER MC was killed by an enemy sniper whilst observing from L19 post.
 
FURTHER INFORMATION
 
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists (CWGC) Lieutenant Robert Cunynghame Slade Baker, Royal Berkshire Regiment, 1st Battalion, died on 19/08/1917. Buried at Beuvry Communal Cemetery Extension (Grave Ref: I.A.23). Son of Brig. Gen. Arthur Slade Baker and Caroline Fisher his wife, of Peans Wood, Robertsbridge, Sussex.
 
Robert Slade-Baker is remembered on the St Jude's Church WW1 Memorial, the Portsmouth Cathedral WW1 Memorial, a personal memorial plaque formerly in the Royal Garrison Church, but not on the Cenotaph in Portsmouth. He is not listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War', Section X.
 
Tim Backhouse
August 2014