Reg and Belle Baker

Reginald (Reg) and Isabella (Belle) Baker lived at The Lodge, in Church Road in the 1950s. We are indebted to Richard Rose for providing the following biography, and for allowing us to publish it here.

My great uncle, Ernest Reginald Baker (known as Reg to family and friends) was born on 21st December 1890, in East Dulwich, London. He was one of a family of 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls, and youngest of these was my grandmother.

He attended High School Dulwich and then went on to attend Battersea Polytechnic from 1906 to 1908 where he studied Civil Engineering. In 1908 he then went north to a pupilage in  Newcastle where he underwent practical training. He worked for a well-known Newcastle Civil Engineer, J .Watt Sandeman. He performed surveying for harbours in the North East, and got involved in borings, foundations of buildings and harbour construction. He worked on the Tyne and Blyth, Whitby and Berwick Harbours.

In July 1914, aged 24, he left Southampton on a ship bound for Singapore, and then on to British North Borneo. He worked in the town of Sandakan for the Public Works Department as an Assistant Engineer, under a Mr Budden. He worked on the construction of main roads, bridges, drains, culverts and sewers. He was also superintendent of construction of a "25 mile range" lighthouse. He applied to and became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in December 1916.

From passenger records, it would appear that he did 5 year stints in Borneo, after which he would return home for 6 months or so. In the days well before air travel, the trip by sea from Borneo, via Singapore or Japan, back to the UK would have taken 6-7 weeks.

In September 1926, he married Isabella (known as Belle) Hetherington, in Newcastle. I assume, but don’t know for sure, that he had met her many years before when he lived in Newcastle. The family always talked of her as a beautiful and attractive lady. They left for Borneo on a ship from London on 6th November 1926.

They then proceeded to live the life of expats in Borneo until January 1942 when the Japanese invaded the island for its oil reserves. They were very lucky to escape and had to flee leaving all their possessions, with the exception of some jewellery. To my knowledge, they never returned after the war. In the family, we have a couple of items of furniture and some small artefacts from Borneo, that belonged to them. I assume these items adorned the rooms of Sandakan when they lived there. I can only conclude that they must have shipped various items home at earlier dates, because they would not have been able to bring anything much with them when the Japanese invaded.

I have little knowledge of their time back in the UK. I now know, thanks to the recent help of the Yapton Local History Society, that they purchased the large house in Church Road, Yapton in 1949, renaming it Sandakan (in remembrance of the town in Borneo), and living there and running it as a guesthouse until the mid 1950s. I also know, from a family address book, that they lived at Oakshott Hanger, Hawkley, Liss, at some time, and perhaps this was after they sold Sandakan.

I do not know where and when Belle died, but I do remember going to see Reg in the late 1960s when he lived in an apartment in Petersfield; I was about 7 or 8 years old. I remember him telling me that I would become an engineer, and he was right, for I too read Civil Engineering at university. Reg died in Chichester in March 1975, aged 84 years.

The following are some photos of Reg and Belle in Borneo:

A young Reg relaxing after work in his (as it says on the back) "costume de la nuit….an early attempt" :


Reg with his beloved Lea Francis motor bike in November 1922 :


Belle (shaking hands) and Reg, on her left, meeting some local dignitaries in Jan 1934 :


The Tamparuli Bridge, North Borneo, (which I believe he designed and/or built) in 1938 * :


Richard Rose
March 2017

* It's possible Reg's bridge still exists - see this photo and this


(search terms: Reg Baker, Reginald Baker, Belle Baker, Isabella Baker, Sandakan)

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