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Baker Family at Sharpness


Harry Baker and his familyCustoms and Excise officer Harry Baker and his family lived at No 12 Dock Row, Sharpness, from 1937 to 1946. This page highlights some of his son's memories of that period.

The Baker Family
     Harry Baker, his wife Averil and their young son Terry are pictured right with Mr Bishop, an instructor from the training ship Vindicatrix who lodged with them. They lived in one of the houses in Dock Row traditionally reserved for customs officers. Their neighbours included bank manager Mr Taylor, customs officer Mr Morrison, dock policeman Mr Woolley and the Grey, Jackson and Laugharne families. Terry attended Newtown Primary School and went on to Dursley Grammar School.
 

Sharpness Dock Jun 1937Sharpness Dock
     In 1937, Sharpness was busy with steamers discharging grain into the warehouses and the silo on the east side of the dock or delivering timber to lighters and railway wagons on the west side. Great interest was created in June when the four-masted barque Viking arrived with 4000 tons of wheat from Australia. For young Terry Baker, the dock estate was his playground, and he remembers with his friends:

  • Dodging between the railway trucks parked next to the dockside, awaiting the off-loading of cargo, and trying to fool the policeman so he could fill his pockets full of peanuts to sell at school for ten a penny.
  • Climbing on to the conveyor belt in the roof of a dockside warehouse, leaping into the grain many times, and later running through the wheat in the warehouse trying to reach the third and last open door before the watchman closed it for the day.
  • Fishing for elvers along the tidal basin by lowering a home-made net on a pole to scoop up the young eels which swarmed against the dockside and then squeezing the foam out of the elvers before frying them in butter.
  • Going under the grandstand at the soccer field behind Dock Row to look for money and things which may have fallen out of peopleís pockets while sitting in the stands watching the game.
  • Scrumping for rhubarb in the allotments next to the soccer field.

Sharpness at War
     Sharpness played a valuable role during the war handling convoy traffic diverted from London and also accumulating military supplies that were shipped out for the invasion of North Africa and later for the landings in Europe. Many of these supplies were stored in the timber sheds under the guard of a detachment of American troops camped near the football field. Terry Baker remembers:

  • Watching the Lewis gun mounted on the top of the grain silo shooting at a stray German plane flying over the docks.
  • Watching from the shoreline while a Spitfire flew over and fired at a barrage balloon floating in the river, having come free from Avonmouth during a raid. He and his friends were showered by empty shell cases and thought they were being shot at.
  • Watching Spitfire pilots flying under the Severn Railway Bridge. One crashed, and although the boys did not see it happen, they did see the wreck of the plane at low tide.
  • Seeing the US army housed in tents in the fields near the soccer field. The boys became friendly with them and were given a share of their rations.
  • Seeing many trucks and jeeps parked across the road from Dock Row ready for D-Day.

Visiting Harry Baker's Office
     Terry Baker did not know much about his father's work as a Customs and Excise officer, but he does remember:

  • Going into his fatherís office near the tidal basin and being fascinated to see the jelly stuff used to reproduce documents before the days of xerox machines.
  • Updating his father's work manual for him. The revisions came as one or two lines of new material, many to a page, separated by perforations. These were glued into the appropriate places in the manual, making the manual, eventually, quite tatty looking.
  • Filing his father's official correspondence which was in a binder having a string with a metal end through the top left corner. The correspondence was pierced in the left hand corner, and the string threaded through it. Such was the customs service in those days.

Terry Baker and his wifeDock Row Revisited
     In 1946, the family left Sharpness as Harry Baker was posted to Middlesex to set up the Customs and Excise presence at Heathrow Airport. Terry served in the R.A.F. for three years and then worked for British European Airways and Trans-Canada Air Lines, later called Air Canada, who transferred him to Montreal in 1965.

     On a return visit to Sharpness in 1982, Terry and his wife Dawn found his old house, and he was pleased to note that the residents no longer had to cross the road to a communal pump to collect drinking water. Since retirement Terry and Dawn live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

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