Tributes paid to war veteran ‘railway man’ Roland Baker from Bacton
Tributes have been paid to war veteran and ‘railway man’ Roland Baker from Bacton who has died at the age of 96.
Mr Baker was captured by the Japanese during the Second World War and sent to work on the infamous ‘death railway’ in Burma, the inspiration for the Oscar-winning Bridge Over the River Kwai.
Born in Stowupland on January 17, 1921, Mr Baker left school in Mendlesham at the age of 14 to work on a farm with Suffolk Punches before joining the territorial army aged 18.
He was then called up to serve in the Suffolk Regiment in 1939.
In 1941 the regiment were sent to Singapore but hadn’t been there long before they were ordered to surrender.
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Mr Baker was transported by train to Thailand, 40 men squeezed tightly into each carriage, packed in so close they had to take turns to sit down.
When they arrived the men were forced to work on the railway for hours on end, living on scarce rations while facing daily beatings.
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Mr Baker’s son Raymond Birch, 78, said: “All the wood they used for the railway and the bridge over the River Kwai was cut from the jungle. He used to say they carried them, dressed only in a loin cloth, on their shoulders.
“He weighed around five stone when he came back – he was ten or eleven stone when he went.”
Mr Baker spent a total of three and a half years as a prisoner of war before the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“He used to say he was saved by the atomic bombs,” said Mr Birch.
“Just before that the prisoners were forced to dig a big hole, lined with machine guns, which was to become their grave.
“He said you never knew what day would be your last.”
When he returned to Suffolk, Mr Baker worked as a lorry driver, marrying his wife Kathleen Baker on April 2, 1953. She passed away in May 2014 aged 102.
Mr Birch said: “My father was a very loyal man and very generous, particularly with his time.
“He was a strong character and was diligent in visiting all his comrades if they were ever ill.
“He spent his last few months sitting overlooking his garden which was what he wanted.”
Mr Baker’s funeral is on Tuesday, October 17, at 2.30pm at St Mary the Virgin Church in Mendlesham.
All are welcome to attend.