Ronald David Baker was born on 7th October 1916 at Bilston, Wolverhampton and joined the RAF in October 1934 as an Aircrafthand. He later successfully applied for pilot training and arrived at 11 Group Pool St. Athan from 7 FTS on 9th September 1939. After converting to Hurricanes, he went to Digby on 6th October and was serving with 56 Squadron by early 1940.
He was in action over Dunkirk where he damaged a He111 on 27th May and another one two days later. On 13th July he claimed the destruction of a Ju87, but damaged his aircraft after a forced-landing at Rodmersham following combat over the Channel.
We learn considerably more about 'Finger' Baker from Geoffrey Page's classic account, 'Tale of a Guinea Pig.
"Sergeant Pilot Baker was, fortunately for B Flight, a member of A flight. As someone remarked, a trifle unkindly perhaps, that the reason he was so dim was because his mother had been frightened by a night light when pregnant. Not unnaturally he acquired the name of ‘Finger’ - a title earned by having his digit firmly wedged, but unlike the little Dutch boy, he wasn't credited with her with having it stuck in the dyke.
Unfortunately Finger was quite a lovable character and although a dead loss in the air, his activities never failed to amuse the other members of the squadron. Squadron Leader Manton summed the situation up one day by remarking, “The Huns have got the Italians to slow them down, and we've got Finger."
Sergeant Pilot Baker was 5 feet 4 inches in height, with china blue eyes, a fair moustache struggling for survival, and a medal. His simple nature and good humour, combined with a Winnie the Pooh brain, took the leg pulling in good grace. In fact he would often retaliate by pointing out to the practical jokers that he, Sergeant Pilot Baker, had a medal, whereas they had not been recognised by His Majesty. Everyone knew, of course, that the decoration worn proudly beneath his wings was the coronation medal earned for standing stiffly to attention along the royal route when George VI and his Queen drove to the Abbey to be crowned. Each and every pilot played up to the importance of Finger's medal and a respectful atmosphere was maintained whenever the topic was mentioned.
But alas, despite the recognition by his King and country, Finger still remained incorrigible in the air. In his first air battle he forgot where the switch was to turn on the reflector gunsight. In the second he remembered the gunsight, but left the gun button on 'safe' much to the joy of his sitting target of a German bomber just in front of him. The third time Finger was so happy at remembering his switch on both gunsight and guns, that he forgot to look behind and a few seconds later he found himself floating down in a parachute.
Then Finger went to war for the fourth time. For a while the cloudless skies were streaked with condensation trails and lethal missiles, and suddenly, as always, the skies were clear of gyrating aeroplanes as both sides mutually agreed to go home. Eleven Hurricanes landed back at their airfield within a few minutes of each other. Laughingly we joked over the not unusual tardiness of the twelfth. One of the a flight pilots checked off the points on his fingers. '
'Let me see now. He's remembered to switch on the gunsight, so it can't be that. He's learned about turning the gun button onto fire, and I hope he's remembered to look behind. I know! He's forgotten to pull the ripcord on his parachute!'
The laughter turned to concern as the hours passed by and no message was received from the missing pilot. Inquiries through Group Operations revealed nothing. No one had seen an aircraft crash and the only parachutists had been Jerries. His loss took a great deal of the sunshine and laughter out of our lives for a time.
Taffy summed up our feelings after next flight following Baker's disappearance. Giving his combat report, he said, 'I gave the Me 109 a short burst and he blew up, and I thought that evens it up for Finger.'
Five days later one of the pilots landed in a state of great excitement. The last to land after the recent fight, he rushed over to our group standing around the tea urn outside the hut. 'I've just seen Finger's plane!' he shouted. 'Down near Romney Marshes'.
Inquiries through the local police soon traced Finger to his comfortable lodgings in a pub. It never occurred to him to report his whereabouts to the squadron. Instead he waited for us to find him!
Inside the hut a solemn stillness reigned. Beds had been cleared away to allow space for the ceremony, and standing rigidly to attention with their backs to the walls, stood the squadron pilots. Standing on a dias, looking suspiciously like an aircraft chock, stood the 'A' Flight commander. Behind him and slightly to the right stood another pilot reading from a scroll of toilet paper. Facing the dias stood a puzzled Sergeant Finger Baker. The citation was read aloud for the assembled squadron to hear:
'It is hereby decreed that you, Sergeant Pilot 'F' Baker, having displayed outstanding finger trouble even for one so well versed in the art of digital dexterity, inasmuch that on Tuesday afternoon of last week you did, after being mildly shot down, crash land your aircraft and thereafter repair to the local tavern. Whence from this abode of rest your only communication with your fellow human beings was, 'Another pint please'. This monotonous chant being upheld until by chance one Sergeant pilot- may he be forgiven- did espy your aircraft from the air and lead us to your humble lodgings. Not content with this, you did then touch your rescuing officers for the sum of two pounds, ten shillings and a tanner, to settle with mine host for the vast quantities of ale quaffed in his posting house. You will now be invested with the bar to your superlatively won Coronation Medal.'
Solemnly the insignia of merit was placed around Sergeant Baker's neck: the unmistakable handle swung loosely at the end of a metal chain. Two minutes later Finger was deposited, medal and all, into the nearby static water tank. Squadron life resumed its normal tempo again for a while."
(Geoffrey Page, 'Tale of a Guinea Pig', pp80-83)
Baker was killed on 11th August 1940. His Hurricane, N2667, was seen to fall away streaming glycol 15 miles off Walton-on-the-Naze. Baker had baled out and was picked up by a motor launch and transferred to the destroyer HMS Westminster. Despite attempts to resuscitate him, he did not recover and his body was landed at Sheerness.
(Reports above courtesy of and copyright the National Archives).
Baker was 23 and is buried in Letchworth Cemetery, Hertfordshire.
If you would like to hear more about the experiences of fighter pilots such as Geoffrey Page and 'Finger' Baker on either a London walking tour or whole day tour in East Kent, please get in touch now. You can also visit the website www.thebattleofbritain.co.uk, call 07852 765901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of the Battle of Britain monument.