Edwin Otterson Baker was born at Roanoke, Virginia on 12 October 1893, the son of Herbert Baker and his first wife. His mother had died by 1900 and his father subsequently remarried, Ethel Howard, on 24 June 1903. The following year the family emigrated to Canada, settling initially in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, where his younger half-sister, Barbara, was born in 1907. By 1911 the family were living in Ottawa. Edwin later moved to Montreal, where he worked for a grocer.
He enlisted on 8 April 1916 in Montreal for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. For one reason or another he decided to conceal both his real name and his place of birth. He gave his name as Edward Oliver Brownlee and his place of birth as Portage la Prairie. He joined the 148th Battalion and was allocated the regimental number 842021. The Battalion, comprising 32 officers and 951 other ranks, sailed from Halifax on RMS Laconia on 26 September 1916 arriving in England on 6 October and on that day he was promoted to Lance Corporal.
In January 1917 the 20th Reserve Battalion was formed from the 148th and 171st Battalions at Shoreham in West Sussex. Baker remained there until March 1917, and was promoted to Acting Corporal for a period before reverting in rank when he was posted to France to join the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) in 3rd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. He joined the Battalion on 18 April, just after the Battalion had taken part in the attack on Vimy Ridge.
Lance Corporal Baker served with the 13th Battalion throughout 1917. He suffered from trench fever in July that year and at some stage he suffered a minor shrapnel wound to his right foot, which is not recorded as being serious enough to put him in hospital. There is no record of the actions that he took part in but it is probable that he took part in the attacks at Hill 70 near Loos in August 1917 and at Passchendaele in October 1917.
While on leave in London in January 1918 Lance Corporal Baker fell ill with influenza and was admitted to 2nd London General Hospital at Chelsea. He was later transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Bromley in Kent before being released from hospital on 2 April. He was attached then to 20th Reserve Battalion at Shoreham, where he spent the rest of the war. It was during this period that he reverted to his correct name. He sailed for Canada on 12 December 1918 and was discharged on 17 January 1919.
His family had returned to the United States and in January 1919 Edwin joined his parents in Albany, New York, where his father was the secretary of the New York State Automobile Association. Edwin subsequently worked as a railway clerk. Although apparently fully fit when he was discharged, Edwin fell ill with tuberculosis in the autumn of 1919. He was admitted to United States Public Health Service Hospital No. 41 at New Haven, Connecticut, where he died on 22 June 1920. His body was returned to Albany and buried in Graceland Cemetery. The grave, in Section E, Lot 159, is marked with a private memorial. His father, who died in 1932, and his step-mother, who died in 1977, are also buried there.
He is commemorated on page 547 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 19-21 November.
His medals group comprises the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal. His father received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll. Being unmarried and with his mother deceased, no Memorial Cross was issued.
1. (Back) Some military documents show his year of birth as 1891, others as 1892. On census records his year of birth may be interpreted as 1892 or 1893. His grave stone gives his year of birth as 1893.
2. (Back) Walter Herbert Baker (15 November 1871-2 September 1932) was born in Lexington, Virginia. There are no records that identify his first wife, Edwin Baker’s mother.
3. (Back) His second wife, Ethel L. Howard (1877-8 December 1977) was born in Iowa; their daughter Barbara Alice (later McCarty) (21 February 1907-14 August 2003), was born in Manitoba, Canada.
4. (Back) RMS Laconia was an ocean liner operated by Cunard from 1912. She served with the Royal Navy as an armed merchant cruiser until July 1916, when she returned to duty with Cunard. On 25 February 1917 she was sunk after being torpedoed by U-50 on a voyage from the United States to England. Six crew members and six passengers were killed.
5. (Back) For a history of the Battalion, see: Fetherstonhaugh, R C. (1925). The 13th Battalion Royal Highlanders of Canada, 1914-1919. Toronto: The 13th Battalion Royal Highlanders of Canada.