VALENTINE HENRY BAKER (1888-1942) Father of Denys Val Baker


Valentine ......... ................................with Amy Johnson .................... .................Val, J. Martin, F.Francis partners at M.B................ .Valentine's wedding 1916

The father of Denys Val Baker, a noted early aviator, also led an interesting life in the first half of the twentieth century . He was killed on September 12th 1942 at Wing whilst testing a new fighter plane, the Martin Baker Mark 3, when the engine failed soon after take-off. After the crash Valentine's business partner James Martin went on to design the Martin Baker ejector seat, a device that has since saved the lives of well over 3000 pilots faced with similar situations



The ill- fated MB3 in which Val crashed in 1942 ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,......................,Val with a pupil


........A postcard of Val !920's (?)..............................Funeral of Valentine Baker September 1942


The MB3 Crashes - From ‘James Martin’ biography by Sarah Sharman

Baker started the engine and taxied the aircraft down to the end of the runway. He started the take-off run and began to accelerate down the runway. James and the flight engineers were standing watching as they usually did. Suddenly the engine cut out. The onlookers tensed and became immediately alert. It looked as if Baker would have to abort the take-off run, and there was not much of the runway left for him to stop on, but almost immediately, the engine cut in again and the aircraft continued down the runway without stopping. The tension eased and as the aircraft lifted into the sky, the ground crew began to turn away and talk among themselves, the moment of danger having passed. But just then, the reassuring roar of the engine stopped and a deadly silence overtook them. Panic and disbelief gripped the onlookers. The aircraft was somewhere between 50 and 100 feet above the ground. It had already passed the end of the runway so a landing back on the runway was out of the question.
As is often the case when disaster strikes quickly, people have difficulty in recalling exactly what happened, and in this case the aircraft disappeared out of sight behind a line of trees on the boundary of the airfield immediately before it crashed. It seems however that Baker tried to manoeuvre the aircraft towards a safe place to crash land, but that the wing tip hit a tree stump, causing the aircraft to cartwheel. The onlookers dropped everything and jumped onto their motorbikes or just ran. They heard the crash of the aircraft hitting the ground, an explosion and then they saw smoke rising into the sky. When they reached the tree line it was all over. The top of the cabin was embedded in a bank and the rest of the aircraft had cartwheeled out. It had lost the rear half, the engine section and the wings up to the stub, and the centrepiece with about 120 gallons of high octane fuel was ablaze. Steel tubes and panelling just virtually melted. There was nothing they could do. James Martin flung himself onto a grass bank and lay there sobbing.’My dear Val, my dear Val,’ he said over and over again.
When the heat died down they were able to venture forward to the wreckage. It soon became clear that Baker must have been killed or knocked unconscious instantly and had not had to suffer the agony of burning to death as they had feared. His shoulder harness had been attached to the aircraft fuselage behind him, and it had ripped through the panelling like a knife and was hanging loose. Baker would have been thrown forward, and would have smashed his head as he hit the front of the cockpit. They got stakes of wood out of a nearby fence to try and prise his body out. His shrivelled and charred remains rolled down the wing stub and hit the ground. His body had been burned to less than half its size. Many of the men had seen crashes before, but nothing like this. It was utterly gruesome and horrific.
They all felt sick and distressed. They talked very little. Eventually they returned to the hangar as nobody knew quite what to do next. James was there, a solitary figure, walking up and down, apparently oblivious to what was going on around him. A young flight engineer nervously took him a cup of tea. ‘Thanks, boy’, he said as he took it from him.
Baker’s death had an incalculable effect on James. The horror of the crash, the heat of the blazing aircraft, the stench of burning flesh, were enough to make an indelible impression on those who only knew Baker as James’s partner. Fifty years on, the memories of that day are still vivid enough to be upsetting. But James had lost his dearest friend. And more than that, his dear Val had been killed flying an aeroplane that James had designed and built with his own hands. It was of course, the failure of the Napier engine that had caused the crash, not any defect in the aircraft itself, but it still remained that he had died flying one of James’s aeroplanes.



From Funeral Brochure produced by Martin Baker Co 1942

VALENTINE HENRY BAKER was born on August 24th 1888 the youngest son of Mr and Mrs J M Baker of Llanfairfechan, North Wales. His father died some years ago; his mother still lives at Llanfairfechan, and has just celebrated her 96th birthday. When the Great War broke out he joined the R.N.A.S. (Armoured Cars Section) as a dispatch rider. On October 27th 1914 he was promoted to the position of Petty Officer. Five months later, March 15th, he was on the River Clyde which took part in the first landing in Gallipoli, and during the fighting on the beaches he was severely wounded by a bullet in the neck. When Bake (as he was known by all his friends) was taken to hospital at Malta, the doctors decided that any operation for the removal of the bullet might have fatal results as it was lodged very near the spinal nervous system.' Leave it alone then', said Bake; and the bullet remained in the back of his neck until the day of his death. although that bullet must have been a source of continual bother to Bake, he never mentioned it or complained of it, and only his family and a few friends knew anything about it. From Malta Bake was discharged as unfit and returned home. However, it was not long before he volunteered for military service again and he was accepted for the Royal Welch Fusiliers, becoming a Second Lieutenant on November 5th 1915. Soon Bake was able to make his eagerly awaited entry into aviation. In the Spring of 1916 he was posted to the School of Aero Flying at Reading for a training course. In July he went to the Central Flying School, D Squadron, and on September 25th 1916 he graduated as a flying officer general list, of the new Royal Flying Corps. A month later at Gosport, he joined the famous 41 Squadron of the R.F.C. with which he served all his operational war flying. Bake saw nearly nine months active flying service in France, and during that time nearly every one of his original comrades of 41 Squadron was killed or badly wounded. He crashed himself once or twice but managed to escape unhurt. Leading his own flight he had many encounters with enemy formations and was reputed to have shot down between 15 and 20 German planes; he also did valuable work on ground strafing of troops. It was for his daring and bravery in the latter activity that he was awarded the Military Cross. the official announcement read- In a large number of aerial combats he showed the greatest daring and determination. On one occasion alone he flew at low altitude over the enemy lines attacking and dispersing enemy artillery, infantry and transport, and returned with a valuable reconnaissance report concerning the retiring enemy. Later Bake was awarded the new Air Force Cross - reported to be the first British pilot to receive the award. Bakes impressive reputation as a flyer not unnaturally led the authorities to decide that he would be a very good man for training new flyers and in June 1917 he was posted to home establishment. From then until the end of the war Bake made a very valuable contribution to Britain's air supremacy by helping to turn out good flyers.

As a flying instructor at Turnbury, Catterick, and Cramlington he must have trained large numbers of air force lads. During this period Bake was promoted Flight commander, and later Captain. After the Armistice he went for a short while with 18 Squadron out to Cologne then back to Cramlington. In September 1919 he went to Beverley as C.O. to superintend the winding up of the airdrome there - and from there he went to Grantham airdrome. His final Air Force job of that period was his transfer inMay 1920 to the Secret Codes Department, Air Ministry - a job he held until September 30th 1921, when he returned at last to civilian life. Like so many others of his generation Bake had, during the war years, passed from youth to manhood. He had married too - on March 23rd 1916 to an old school friend Dilys Eames, daughter of a well known Llanfairfechan family. Like so many others, he decided that the time had come for him to make a career for himself, so at the end of 1921, Bake with several years of intensive experience as a flying instructor behind him, ventured on his first civilian flying job. He went out to the Dutch East Indies as a representative of Vickers-Armstrong Aircraft Co, and became attached to the Dutch Naval and Military Air Forces in Java as a flying instructor. For three years he taught flying to a great many young Dutch pilots. Bake liked Java very much and would have been content to stay out there, but the enforced return to England of his wife, due to illness, decided him to return home. However a little later he went on another trip for Vickers this time to Chile, South America where he taught flying and demonstrated new Vickers machines. Meanwhile the growing interest in flying had spread to England. Airdromes and air schools were beginning to open. Bake decided that here was a field where he could be of particular use, and in the middle of the 1920's he began his most important phase of flying instruction with the appointment as flying instructor tothe Lancs Flying Club. He helped to build ut this air school and then passed on to the job of Chief Flying Instructor at the London Aeroplane Club, Stag Lane Aerodrome, Edgeware. He stayed there for several years, then in 1929 took the job of Chief Pilot and instructor for Air work Ltd at Heston Aerodrome.

Bakes name will always be associated with Heston. He went there to open an air school which under his expert guidance, quickly became the most famous in Britain - indeed one of the most famous in the world. It is interesting to note that up to the time of his death he had flown 15,000 hours, 9000 of which were done at Heston, and among his more notable pupils were the Duke of Windsor (then the Prince of Wales), the late Duke of Kent, Lord Londonderry (former Air Minister) the late Lord Lloyd, and a whole host of others including Amy Johnson. Just as it seemed that Bake and Heston would go along forever, he sprang a surprise by announcing his resignation as he wished to join his friend James Martin in a new company and with the assistance of Francis Francis, The Martin Baker Aircraft Co was launched. The death of Captain Baker on September 12th 1942 was indeed tragic. He was testing out a new fighter, in which he had already made some dozen successful flights, when the engine of the machine seized during a take-off at very low altitude and Bake was compelled to make a forced landing in a very restricted space. The shock of his death was felt sincerely throughout the world of British aviation and there are many people from all walks of life who will always remember him with respect and affection. From Funeral Brochure produced by Martin Baker Co 1942

Inspired by the crash that killed his friend,James Martin went on to design the Martin Baker ejector seat, a device that has saved thousands of lives over the past fifty years. See also 'James Martin' by Sarah Sharman (Patrick Stephens Ltd).Valentine's only child, Denys, took the name 'Val' as part of his writing name and later passed it on to his own children.

CAPTAIN V. H. BAKER. An Appreciation by Lord Londonderry in The Times 21/9/1942

Many will of heard with profound regret of the death of Captain V.H. Baker, the famous flying instructor before the war at Heston airport and latterly test pilot. It was during a test flight that he met his death. To almost a generation of pilots of both sexes Baker was the last word in flying instruction and a large number of them are flying in the R.A.F., the A.T.A. and elsewhere at the present time. During my nine years flying I have come across many instructors, but I have never come across one who was his superior in the art of imparting practical knowledge of flying and at the same time gaining the full confidence of his pupils. He was a psychologist of the very highest order, with an unerring instinct as to the characters and capacity of those whom he trained. His handling of pupils was different in every case and his methods invarialby evoked the best response. He could tame the conceited novice with a few chosen phrases and inspire the timid and diffident beginner, but his breezy and unfailing good humour was the same for all and his jokes on indifferent performances were never wounding though very much to the point. Well what are you going to do about it? used to come down the telephone when he had turned the machine upside down and the unsuspecting pupils feet had come offthe rudder- bar and his hand was clutching wildly at the stick. But whereas he always pointed out in very direct language all mistakes, his enthusiastic words of praise consoled many an anxious and industrious novice. When instructing one pupil his eyes were everywhere. He seemed to know exactly what his other pupils flying solo were doing. When he met them on the ground, to one he would say, Youll be into the gasometer next time if you come in as fast as that, and to another Don't come in slow like a hearse or you'll want one very soon. His number of flying hours must have been prodigious. He was always ready to go up and assist with advice and instruction all those who had gained their A licences under his teaching. Baker will leave a gap, but his memory will live long among those who had the luck to come under his magnetic influence, and whose devotion to flying was derived from his irrepressible enthusiasm, but we can all feel quite certain that he himself would have asked for nothing different when it was ordained that he should take off on his final flight.

Back to Denys Val Baker

Back to Rainyday Homepage