Bill Baker was destined to go to sea. Born and raised in Liverpool, life in the city revolved around the docks and the fleets that had made the city famous the world over. His dad and grandfather were in the merchant navy and his uncle had served in the Royal British Navy. Bill recalls being enthralled as a child of his father’s stories of his life in the merchant navy.
My dad had an incredible life at sea. He was part of the Atlantic Convoys during World War Two; manned cargo ships to South America and the Pacific; and even sailed up-river in West Africa.
When Bill left school as a 16-year old, “all I wanted to do was to get away, so I applied to the merchant naval college and the Royal British Navy. The Navy replied first so I packed my bags for Torpoint College in Cornwall and commenced basic training.” Bill’s time with the HMS Ark Royal (Aircraft Carrier) HMS Andromeda (Frigate) provided the adventures that he had hoped for with tours to the Mediterranean Sea, United States and Caribbean. These were followed by stints refitting naval ships in Gibraltar and maintenance of nuclear submarines in Scotland. “I’ll never forget Puerto Rico. It was hot, we were surrounded by jungle, bars all around. It was exotic. At the time, most Liverpool residents were lucky went to Blackpool or Scarborough for a holiday, and here was me in Puerto Rico!”
The reality of life in the navy struck though in early 1982 when the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced that British Forces would retake by force the Falkland Islands that had been annexed by Argentina. By this time, Bill was attached the HMS Ardent, a Type-21 Frigate equipped with 4½ inch shells for shore bombardments, 20mm guns and Seacat anti-aircraft missiles. The Ardent led the British fleet into Falkland’s Sound in protection of ships carrying landing forces ahead of being directed to bomb an Argentinian garrison at Goose Green. From here, it was ordered to Grantham Sound to draw enemy fire away from another wave of landing forces. By the time the crew of HMS Ardent were ordered to evacuate, the ship had been struck by 20 Argentinian bombs, fires were widespread and the emergency pumps and power were disabled.
Over 20 men died on the Ardent, and many more suffered lifelong physical and mental injuries. What Bill also remembers acutely was how his colleagues reacted as the ship came under attack. This was the first conflict that Britain had been involved in for close to 30 years, and most of the ship’s crew had never been at risk. The people who reacted best were not necessarily those that were of the highest rank, but those of “character and instinct” who thought of their fellow sailors first.
In 2004, Bill moved to Australia with his wife, got his navy papers stamped by the Maritime Board and took a job as deckhand with Sydney Ferries, spending most of his time on the Alexander. He now oversees the shore-side operations at Circular Quay as a Team Leader in charge of Customer Services. But his naval time still serves him well. “Above all else the navy taught me how to get along with people, and that is a skill that you need in any workplace, including at the Ferries.”
It is important to know who holds influence, and it was not always the person with the highest rank or says they are in charge.
If you see Bill around Circular Quay be sure to come and say hello, perhaps even have a chat about football. Be sure though to be on the right team – Liverpool F.C.!