James Baker was born in Constantinople, Turkey, in 1864, the son of George and Maria Baker (née Butler). His parents were British, and his father was a merchant in Constantinople. It is not known when James came to England, but he was a dealer in Oriental carpets, and was also reputed to be an excellent golfer.
On the 26th July 1893, he married Edith Pulman in Wandsworth, Surrey. Edith was a school teacher, who had also been born in Constantinople of British parents, and the couple had two children – Edith Joyce and Arthur Ronald. The family lived at ‘Sherbrooke’, 16. Brackley Road, Beckenham, Kent.
On the 20th March 1915, James boarded the Lusitania at Liverpool. His stated destination was Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he wished to engage in business, and he was accompanied by Michael Pappadopoulo, and his wife, Angela, who were Greek nationals. Michael Pappadopoulo was also a dealer in oriental carpets and the director of a company that manufactured carpets.
It is not known for how long the party visited Toronto, but from there, they travelled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and it was while here that they made their plans to return to England on board the
Lusitania. James Baker’s ticket was numbered 14674, while the Pappadopoulos were in possession of ticket number 14673. They travelled from Philadelphia by rail to join the vessel at New York in time for her departure from Pier 54 in New York harbour at 10.00a.m. on Saturday, 1st May 1915. Once on board, James was allocated room B21, which was under the personal supervision of First Class Bedroom Steward Robert Morse, who came from Liverpool.
The liner’s departure for Liverpool was actually delayed until the early afternoon, so that she could take on board passengers, cargo and crew from the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war work as a troop ship at the end of April. Then, six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, the
Lusitania was torpedoed twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland by the German submarine
U-20, and sank just eighteen minutes later. At that stage of her voyage, she was only 250 miles from the safety of her home port. James Baker was counted amongst the survivors of this action, however, and later related his experiences of the sinking in the 10th May 1915 edition of The Western Mail. The account stated: -
He was in his cabin when the explosion occurred and immediately rushed in deck. After leading assistance to various women and children, he got into a boat, but before it could be lowered, the officials ordered the occupants out and the boat swung back, knocking a number of people over.
He then set to work to cut away a raft as the water was then invading the upper deck. With a lifeboat on he jumped from the liner and swam clear. It was over an hour later when he was picked up.
Mr. Baker added that one of the most awful sights was the falling of the liner’s huge funnels. As the vessel listed more and more they broke off, and their fall must have caused many deaths.
Another account published in The Times on the same date gave extra information: -
Mr James Baker ..... said that he was in his cabin when the explosion occurred and it seemed to take place just underneath where he stood. Before he could get out of the cabin the ship had a list. He was rushing up to the deck when he remembered that he had not got his lifebelt.
“I went back to secure this, but I found the cabin in darkness and thick with smoke. When I reached the deck one of the boats on the starboard side was filled with people, but they were ordered to get out, and the next minute, the stay broke. The boat swung back and knocked us all over. I then helped to get some of the rafts away.
Before many minutes had passed, the water was coming right over the upper deck, and I thought it was time to quit. I jumped overboard, swam about, and found a couple of spars, which were useful in supporting me in the sea. Another man swam up to me, and he, too, was able to keep above water with the help of the spars. At the end of an hour they picked us up on one of the rafts, though this was partly smashed in, and we were glad when the first mate’s boat found us, and took us to a trawler.
It is not clear who the first mate was, as there was no such rank on board the
Lusitania, but the other man who swam up to him was fellow saloon passenger Robert J. Timmis, of Gainesville, Texas, in the U.S.A., whose experiences were described in
The Tragedy of the Lusitania, written and published by Captain Frederick D. Ellis in 1915, Timmis’ account stated: -
I was submerged when she plunged under, but I am a fairly good swimmer, and was able to keep afloat. I swam for two hours, finally drifting near my friend, James Baker, from London, who shared a plank with me, on which he was floating.
We were finally taken on board a damaged canvas lifeboat, which was in a sinking condition, but we managed to keep it afloat for another hour, when we were picked up by the trawler Indian Empire. It had eight other passengers on board, among them the woman to whom I gave my lifebelt.
The trawler Indian Empire was the Royal Naval patrol boat H.M.S.
Indian Empire, an ex-civilian trawler taken up from trade for war service, which helped to rescue many survivors from the sinking.
Having been landed at Queenstown, he learned that Angela Pappadopoulo had also survived and been rescued, but there was no trace of her husband, Michael. James Baker took it upon himself to look after his grief-stricken widow, taking her back to his home in Beckenham to recuperate. He wrote a letter to his friend and fellow survivor, Robert Timmis, on the 15th May in which he stated: -
I have been so full up with callers and letters and having Mrs. Pappadopoulo to look after that I have not been able to write to you ….
I had a call yesterday from Bistis’ brother. He had been over to Queenstown but found no trace of his brother. He saw a steward who informed him that both Pappadopoulo & Bistis were in a boat that was being lowered just as the ship was sinking. The boat was smashed and they were upset and were thrown into the water and were struggling in the water. Bistis tried to help Pappadopoulo to get into the boat, they held on for a while and disappeared.
‘Bistis’ was Leonidas M. Bistis, a Greek passenger who was travelling in saloon class, and who unfortunately did not survive the sinking. The letter continued: -
I have had a pretty hard time with Mrs. .Pappadopoulo. I took her home at first, and then some friends of his offered to take her, but, as she grew worse, would eat nothing and had hysterical attacks I decided to put her into a nursing home, and am glad to say she is now quite calm, but very weak. I hope that by Tuesday she will be well enough to start for Paris and Athens…
P.S. Since dictating the above, Mr. Baker has heard that the body of Mr. Pappadopoulo has been recovered and had to leave the office to go and see Mrs. Pappadopoulo and learn her wishes. He is therefore unable to sign this letter himself.
Bedroom Steward Morse also survived the sinking and returned to his native Liverpool.
James Baker continued in business for many years after surviving the sinking of the Lusitania. He continued to reside in Beckenham, his last address being Holm Lodge, 56. Wickham Road, Beckenham. He died in Newquay, Cornwall, on the 4th December 1944, aged 80 years. His wife, Edith, had predeceased him. Probate of his will on the 11th April 1945, left his estate of £46,108-17s-11d. (£46,108.89½p), to his son, Arthur Roland Baker, and Robert Percival Baker (who was either a brother or nephew of James), both of whom were described as company directors.
GRO Consular Birth Indices, Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Cunard Records, PRO 22/71, PRO BT 100/345, The Times, Tragedy of the Lusitania, Western Mail, Probate Records, Lest We Forget Part 1, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Stuart Williamson, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer.
Copyright © Peter Kelly