Essex pensioner refuses to keep still

By Sharon AsplinTHE family of 80-year-old John Baker knew he was rather special when he celebrated his milestone year with a trek beyond the Everest base camp and a 500ft bungee jump in the Himalayas.

By Sharon Asplin

THE family of 80-year-old John Baker knew he was rather special when he celebrated his milestone year with a trek beyond the Everest base camp and a 500ft bungee jump in the Himalayas.

While most octogenarians are content with a gentler pace of life, not this grandfather, who is always casting around for a new challenge.

Now other less intrepid mortals can discover some of the secrets of his incredibly youthful outlook and fitness when he launches his autobiography, Ajax & 940, next month.

It was a three-year quest for Mr Baker, of Thomas Road, Clacton, to finish his book Ajax & 940 - a full account of his life, although the majority of it concerns his exploits on tank landing craft during the war.

When it is published, it will be the only book written by a seaman who lived and fought aboard these unusual craft.

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The 140-page book recounts how Mr Baker joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 just 10 days after the outbreak of the Second World War.

He trained at Shotley in Suffolk and in 1941 and 1942 saw action aboard HMS Ajax in the Mediterranean while still only a 17-year-old seaman boy. For months, he survived regular attacks by aircraft, especially while on convoys to Malta.

Returning to the UK in 1942, he quickly joined combined operations, becoming a coxswain of LCT 940, a tank landing craft, whilst only 18.

After months practising to load, beach and unload tanks from these little craft, he experienced the D-Day invasion and a total of 31 additional landings on the beaches of Normandy.

Mr Baker had kept his diaries from the time and used them for information for his book. "Originally my account was to have been a two-page article for a naval magazine but when I gave it to my brother to copy he said I had to give the full picture," he said.

"It now covers my life, including 12 years in the Navy, until present day. In the end I borrowed a computer and mastered the beast to type it. I could read my own book time and time again because it's like reliving the memories."

Once the book was finished he and his wife Catherine dashed off to the Himalayas in Nepal. It had been his ambition to scale the 18,500 feet of Kala Patthar - the highest peak that the public can trek to without a climbing pass - and it is thought he is the oldest person by eight years to do so.

On this trip, he also trekked in the challenging Annapurna Range and mastered his first and last bungee jump. He now hopes to revisit the Himalayas when he is 82 to complete another gruelling trek in the Annapurna Range.

He insists his phenomenal fitness is down to just keeping busy. "I am just lucky - it's all about the body God gives you," he said. "I never exercise but I work hard and I am not happy unless I am doing something."

His brother Brian, of Shelley Road, Colchester, added: "I think my eldest brother is rather special. He has just returned from his latest adventures and you are more likely to find him at home during the afternoon as he earns money in the morning doing gardening jobs for the elderly."

The grandfather and father-of-three spent his working life as an electrician, working as a maintenance electrician for Pultrex, Clacton, when he retired.

Ajax & 940, priced £9, will be launched in the Stockwell Arms, West Stockwell Street, Colchester, between noon and 3pm on June 6. Mr Baker, who was born in the street, will be signing copies and talking to anyone wishing to recall the Second World War.

sharon.asplin@eadt.co.uk

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