Margaret Baker – A War Biography
Margaret Baker was born on the 8th May 1924 at the Royal Free Hospital, London, to A Barry and Agatha Baker. She had no brothers and sisters as she was an only child. Her young life was not too dissimilar to that of any other girl middle class girl of that time. She attended St. Pancreas New Church Every Sunday, where she was Christened, at the age of 12 joined the church choir, she went to Camden’s School for Girls and went on to study Botany at Regent’s College London. She graduated in summer 1943 and didn’t let the War faze her in getting her qualification.
She lived at 8 Albert Terrace in Camden, London, with her parents. Her house overviewed Regent’s Park, a place which she adored, especially during the summer months. The house was a fairly big one for just three people, which showed her father’s wealth and power.
Margaret was a lady with both traditional values and feminist views. She was a polite young lady and barely ever spoke out of place; she enjoyed the music of the time from such people as Dame Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields. The growth of the film industry also saw her grow affection for both Rita Hayworth and Vivien Leigh.
She also loved to read both novels and short stories with her favorite book being Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin aswell as loving the Beatrix Potter books. She also loved animals perhaps because of the Peter Rabbit books. She never owned any but loved going to the park and seeing the wildlife and London Zoo was just a short walk away. Margaret also loved the poetry of T.S. Eliot and John Donne and would read countless amounts poetry in Regent’s park on a sunny day. She also liked red wine and had a guilty food pleasure of eating pickles.
Margaret loved flowers and was fascinated by everything to do with them. Her love started when she was just a small child when her mum used to wake her up by putting fresh flowers in her room. Marge always loved how she didn’t know which flowers they would be from one week to the next. Over the years her fascination grew and she had her own greenhouse built at the bottom of the garden. She would spend countless hours making sure that everything was beautiful and perfect. She would get flowers from far and wide which lead to her affinity of the customs of the Far East. She would collect anything that caught her eye from elephant figurines to model boats. Like everyone she had a favorite flower and it simply was a tulip as they came in many different colours and they brightened the winter months for her.
Margaret first met John Fraser at church when she was just 15 and John was 17 whilst reaching for the same song book in order to sing All Things Bright and Beautiful in the summer of 1939, just before the War started. John was a working class man and knew her father would disapprove, but this did not deter Margaret and their loved flourished over the next year. Margaret and John attended the church choir together and John courted Margaret at any opportunity he had. After what happened in Dunkirk, John was determined to help the war effort and made plans to join the army as soon as he turned 18. Margaret completely understood and gave him backing all the way and in the summer of 1940 John took Margaret for a picnic on a typical beautiful summer’s day where they had a lovely time and when the timing was perfect John asked Margaret to marry him. The answer was a big yes and John promised to marry her as soon as the war was over.
In September 1939 War broke out all over Europe. Like many people Marge was anxious about the war and felt helpless to do anything. She helped her father build a bunker in their back garden and spent many nights in there during the Blitzkrieg. In the Bunker she kept numerous books to try and keep her mind off what was happening outside. Bombs fell all around her however she was fortunate not to get bombed but buildings not far away did. Marge did ‘her bit’ for the war effort despite still being a student. She never wasted her food and donated pots and pans to help make new armaments. Marge never appeared worried about the hard times that they had to endure, she was a strong, confident young lady and never showed weakness.
As soon as Margaret gained her qualification she wanted to help the war effort in some way and mainly due to propaganda saying that women were wanted to work in the factories, she landed a job at Enfield Small Arms Factory. Her father refused to let her work there as he knew the conditions were poor and were under constant risk of being attacked, but Margaret being as strong and as determined she is was adamant in working there. After a short time her father agreed but only if she had a TB vaccination, she agreed and started in late August 1943.
She got paid 30 shillings a week for working 50 hours. The days were long and hard but Margaret never complained, she was far too proud to say so and she also knew that the armed forces had it much worse. She didn’t understand how men and women were not treated the same and how men got paid more for doing the same work and wanted equal treatment.
Margaret had always considered herself a pacifist, but in extreme circumstances and her love for her country made her want to help as much as possibly even though it went against her morals.
In May 1945 Margaret saw John for what was going to be the last time. John was waiting to get shipped off to France in the D-Day landings and knew he wouldn’t be coming home until after the war. They spent a beautiful and almost perfect weekend together in each other’s company around Regent’s Park. John had to leave on the Monday before Margaret would wake, he left a small note simply saying, “I Love you,” and left it on the dining room table. Margaret woke and soon saw the note. Marge cried for she knew it could be the last time that they would be together. Marge was strong and managed to wipe away those tears as she had no time to be sad as she had to be at the factory that very morning for work. The next week Marge was very quiet and always appeared calm and contempt. Inside she felt distraught as John was always back a few times a month on leave. John had never experience real combat before June 1944 and Marge was worried by this, despite thousands of men also being in the same situation.
John would also write to her constantly, perhaps two or three times a week, however Marge didn’t receive any mail until early August despite Marge herself writing constantly to him. The communication lines had been broken and mail wasn’t received due to the war. During those five or six weeks Marge constantly checked the newspapers to check if her husband to be was killed. She worried lots and her mother knew this but knew she was too proud to say it or admit it.
Marge got on with her everyday life of travelling via the underground to the munitions factory and kept herself busy. She was professional at her job and didn’t let her social life get in the way of work. TB was running through the factory and Marge soon began to come ill. She would be sick almost constantly and wouldn’t eat properly. She reluctantly took a week off work and her father took had a doctor come round. She didn’t have TB, she was pregnant.
She was very happy with the news; however her father disapproved since she wasn’t married but he understood the circumstances. She straight away wrote a letter to John and told him about the news. Despite being pregnant, this did not deter her from her work and went back to work on the following Monday. Her rations were soon increased, which she enjoyed very much, and was looking forward to seeing John in the New Year as he said that the war would be over by Christmas. She stopped checking the papers for John’s name and was really looking towards the future.
The good times however didn’t last, during Operation Market Garden John was shot dead during battle in Holland on 20th September 1944. Marge was informed by John’s mother who was waiting for her as she came home from work. Marge knew straight away what had happened and broke down in tears in an almost belligerent way. Marge had never lashed out before and her anger was aimed towards God and her faith. A memorial was held in his honor on 27th September 1944 and would be the last time Margaret would attend church for several months.
After hearing about the loss of John and of Operation Market Garden, she lost faith in both the war and religion. She still kept her job and she still worked. All the way until Christmas 1944, she didn’t really understand why she was still working, but she slowly started to believe in the war effort once again and her spirits rose. She didn’t want her child to be born during war time and she believed that making these weapons would help the war end sooner. At this point she was almost 7 months pregnant.
By the end of January 1945, Marge was heavily pregnant at almost 8months and decided to stop working as she felt she did all that she could do. She however didn’t get any maternity pay but did have money and help from her parents.
The baby was born Jack Baker on 2nd March 1945 at the Royal Free Hospital, London. She soon regained her faith after the birth of her son and had Jack Christened a few days after. The war was coming to a close and she didn’t return back to work as she looked after her son full time.
Victory for Britain and the whole of Europe was on the horizon, summer was coming and her new born son was growing well and healthily. Margaret’s 21st birthday was on the 8th May 1945 and this was a special celebration for more than one reason, it was also the day that war came to an end in Europe and the parties began.