One hundred years ago today, the RMS Franconia sailed out of St. John’s Harbour with a draft of Newfoundland Royal Naval Reservists destined to man His Majesty’s Ships in the war against Germany and Austria Hungary.
Twenty five years ago a picture of a sailor appeared in the Grand Falls Advertiser with the caption: “Can you identify this man, if so please contact the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 12.” Immediately my mother recognized the seventy five year old photo. A very similar picture hung in her parents’ living room. So mom took the paper out to Pop who took one look and said “It’s the old man.”
The old man was Eliol Baker and the picture was taken in Scotland sometime in 1914 or 15 while he was an Able Seaman aboard the HMS Patuca. Both pictures were taken with the Patuca cap tally on his hat.[i] I still don’t have a clue how the legion came into possession of the picture, although Dadder, as the family called him, was a member of that branch.
Eloil Baker was born in Gooseberry Cove, Trinity Bay in September of 1891 or so the parish records say. His headstone says 1892 and his enlistment papers state October 4, 1890. When he was about 9 his father died-froze to death in the woods Pop used to say. Dadder was raised by his Uncle and Aunt in Petley on Random Island and later in Black Brook near Hillview.
In his teenage years Eloil came into Grand Falls to work on construction of the mill. He no doubt lived in one of the tar paper shacks that dotted the landscape during this time. Once construction finished up he started going into the woods as a logger, teamster and driver. He would have been on the drive about the same time the “Badger Drive” was written and used to say that he was on the “Badger Drive”-which I later realized meant THE “Badger Drive.”
In January of 1912 at the age of twenty he enlisted in the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve at St. John’s. For some reason he, like so many that cmae after lied about his age and made himself a year older even though he was 20. He signed on the do about a month of training each year for a period of five years. So each winter for the next few years he came into St. John’s to train on the HMS Calypso. In 1914 he did two months according to the records. When he left St. John’s that year he had about 28 days left in the navy.
According to pop Dadder was “on the Labrador”, with skipper Will Smith” when in August of 1914 the news reached the schooners crew from Trinity Bay that War had broken out between Great Britain and Germany and all Naval Reservists had to St. John’s as soon as possible. Most of crew were reservists including the skipper and they were in St. John’s in a few weeks.
One hundred years ago this week Dadder sailed out of St. John’s Harbour on the RMS Franconia with a number of other reservists. Once in the UK the Newfoundlanders underwent further training to supplement what they had received on the Calypso. Dadder was trained at the gunnery school on Whale Island Portsmouth. Then he was posted to Scotland where he would join the newly formed 10th Cruiser Squadron.
The 10th Cruiser Squadron would be home to many Newfoundlanders during the war. It was tasked with enforcing the blockade of the North Sea, making sure no war material made its way to Germany in German or Neutral ships. The Ships of the squadron were not traditional warships they were Armed Merchant Crusiers converted passenger and cargo liners pressed into service and armed. The particular ship Dadder was on; the Patuca was converted banana boat. The Patuca was shiksed away from the sunny Caribean fitted with naval guns, crewed with reservists and set to work patrolling the North Sea.
Dadder would never talk about the war he said “it was not fit to talk about,” “I had my arse in the water more than once” and that he was in the water for three to five hours once. So I have done quite a bit of research on his service. Crews on the Armed Merchant Cruisers were tasked with boarding and inspecting suspicious ships. If they were deemed suspicious the men were posted as an armed guard who escorted the suspicious ship back to a British port for inspection. The Newfoundland reservists were well suited to handling the small boats used by the boarding parties. This was risky business in itself made all the worse by the fact that it was done in the freezing latitudes between Scotland and Iceland.
Armed gaurds from the AMC’s routinely got lost, the ships they were taking back to prt were sometimes sunk, sometimes they were boarded by the Germans ad if the armed guard were unlucky they were captured. In one case an armed guard from the Patuca was posted on a Norwegian ship. On their way back to Scotland they were signalled by a German submarine for inspection-if they were found to be carrying supplies for the British they would be sunk. The seamen from the Patuca scrambled to throw their guns over the side and to disguise themselves a Norweigian sailors. The ruise worked and the sailors from the Patuca escaped capture. Another Armed guard was captured but somehow ended up in South America after the German ship they were on was captured.
Dadder spent three years on the North Sea. Once the Americans came into the war there wasn’t such a need for the 10th crusier squadron since the British no longer had to worry about supplies going to German from a neutral USA. Dadder was posted back to Newfoundland for about six months. It is likely that he was training other sailors or serving in the Newfoundland and Labrador patrol protecting the fishing fleets. During this time he married “Mudder” at St. Thomas’ in St. John’s. Shortly after his marriage he was sent back to the UK. It was December of 1917 and all convoys were going out from Halifax. I am unable to gather if he was there when Halifax was devastated by the explosion or the day after, but he like many other Newfoundland reservists was there to witness the carnage.
Back in the UK Dadder spent some time as a supernumerary. Which menat he was basically a substitute sailor. If a ship needed extra crew they took on supernumerary. Unfortunatly it is impossible to know which ships he was on as a supernumerary. It was during this time he was most likely “In the water.” Towards the end of the war in 1918 Dadder was on the minesweeper HMS Croxton which sweapt the English channel for mines and brght men and supplies back and forth across the English Channel. According to one interview with another Newfoundlander on a minesweeper at the time they were also tasked with taking prisoners back to England.
Dadder was on the Croxton when the war ended. They were given the option to staying overseas to help clear the sea mines that choked the English Channel and other waterways. He satyed overseas clearing mines for a number of months. Clearing mines involved towing a paravane (a type of sea kite attached to a cable that would cut the chains or cables holding the mines) cutting the mines and then blowing them up by shooting them with rifles. It was very dangerous work and a number of Newfoundlanders were killed doing it.
Dadder sailed back to North America in May of 1919 with 100 other reservists aboard the SS Caronia. The Caronia sailed into Halifax as most of their passengers were Canadian soldiers, the Newfoundlanders came back to Newfoundland on the Sagona. At the end of May he was demobilized at St. John’s after 7 years in the Royal Navy.
“Dadder and Mudder” settled in Dark Hole, Hillview, Trinity Bay. They had two children. He worked in the woods mostly, as a logger, teamster and building camps. He and his two brother in laws operated a waterwheel sawmill near the present day Trailside Motel near Goobies. He also worked for a few years on construction of the powerhouse at Deer Lake. He always had a horse and teamed wood for himself and for the AND Co. On the last voters list in which he has a listed occupation he is listed as a river driver. He must have spent quite a few years on the drive and must have been pretty good at it since at the time he was in his late 50’s.
Even though he lived in Hillview Dadder wasn’t a member of the legion there. He was however a member of Branch 12 at Grand Falls. It was probably easier since Nan and Pop moved out to Windsor in 1954 and “Dadder” spent most of his time in there as he got older. Every day he would walk from 8th Ave in Windsor to the Legion in Grand Falls for a beer and maybe a game of cards. He was usually accompanied by “Uncle Lew,” Lewis Saunders another Great War veteran who lived in Windsor. He was also attended the reunions of the Central Newfoundland Naval Association. At the reunions he was by the looks of the pictures, the oldest person there, since the association was made up mostly of Second World War Navy vets from Grand Falls and Windsor.
Dadder passed away just shy of his 82nd birthday in August of 1973 and is buried in Hillview. To this day I don’t know how his Navy picture ended up in the Advertiser or in the hands of the legion or why they were compelled to publish it in the newspaper. what is a little funny is that he spent quite a bit of time at the legion, and appeared in the paper as a member at least twice. It may have had something to do with The Last Post Fund which was dedicated to putting markers at the graves of all veterans and since he was an unidentified man, they needed to check into it. The legion was contacted by my mother and grandfather who filled out the appropriate forms to get a marker placed. It took a few years but a foot marker is now on his grave in Hillview bearing the same incorrect birth year from his enlistment papers. Because the War “wasn’t fit to talk about” most of his wartime service remains a mystery, besides what has been deciphered from log books, medal roles and a varity of other sources.
[i] A cap tally is band with the ship a sailor served on printed on it.