Humour was a critical part of the coping mechanism for all pilots. Geoffrey Page in 'Tale of a Guinea Pig' describes one squadron pilot who always, and often unintentionally, kept them all entertained.
Ronald David Baker 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 but was serving with 56 Squadron by early 1940.
Over Dunkirk he damaged a He111 on 27th May and another one two days later. On 13th July he claimed the destruction of a Ju87, he then had to make a forced-landing at Rodmersham following damage to his Hurricane, P2985, in a combat over the Channel.
Geoffrey Page described how Sgt Baker earned his nickname, 'Finger':
"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 nightlight when pregnant. Not unnaturally he acquired the name 'Finger' - a title earned by having his digit firmly wedged, but unlike the little Dutch boy, he wasn't credited with having it stuck in the dyke... Finger was quite a loveable character and although a dead loss in the air."
Page recalls that Baker's propensity to to forget something critical - find the switch to turn on his gunsight; leaving his gun button on 'safe' just as he was about to shoot a German bomber in front of him; or forget to look behind him before getting shot down - found himself the source of much good natured leg-pulling. However when Baker failed to return from a sortie and the remaining eleven pilots joked about his usual tardiness,
"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... His loss took a great deal of the sunshine and laughter out of our lives... Taffy summed up our feelings after the next flight following Baker's disappearance. Giving his combat report, he said, 'I gave the Me109 a short burst and he blew up, and I thought that evens things up for Finger."
However five days later, one of the pilots of 56 squadron landed in a great deal of excitement to say that he had seen Finger's plane down near Romney Marsh. Inquiries through the police soon traced Finger to his lodgings in a pub near Rye.
"It had never occurred to him to report his whereabouts to the squadron. Instead he waited for us to find him!"
In a mock ceremony with Baker facing a dias on which stood the A Flight commander, one of Baker's fellow pilots read out a citation to the whole squadron written on a scroll of toilet paper:
"It is hereby decreed that you, Sergeant Pilot F 'Finger' Baker, having displayed outstanding finger trouble even for one so well versed in the art of digital dexterity, insomuch 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."
His pilots presented him with an appropriate insignia of merit around his neck - an unmistakeable handle attached to a toilet chain - and swung him, medal and all, into a static water tank. Page reported that "Squadron life resumed its normal tempo again for a while."
Baker was killed on 11th August 1940. His Hurricane, N2667, came down in the sea during a convoy patrol. Baker had baled out but was dead when picked up. Reports at the time claimed that he had been shot down by a Spitfire but this is unsubstantiated.
Baker was 23 and is buried in Letchworth Cemetery, Hertfordshire.
Photo and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website and Geoffrey Page, 'Tale of a Guinea Pig', pp81-83