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First World War centenary: The Barkingside man who served in both world wars, despite being shot and gassed in the first

Keith Baynes with a picture of his father William Alfred Baynes Keith Baynes with a picture of his father William Alfred Baynes

Saturday, April 12, 2014
9:00 AM

The fallen soldiers of the First World War are often named the “lost generation,” with their promise and potential cut short with their deaths.

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A picture of William Alfred BaynesA picture of William Alfred Baynes

And life was not rosy for those who survived, who were haunted by the mental and physical scars that never left them.

Yet one soldier who was shot and severely gassed incredibly returned to active service for the Second World War - and survived that too.

William Alfred Baynes signed up for the First World War at the age of 17, with the Cameron Highlanders. He was then sent off to fight in the trenches, where, like so many others, he met with terrible horrors.

His son Keith Baynes, 82, from Barkingside, said: “He was very badly gassed, as so many were and had a cough for the rest of his life. It [gas attack] cost him much of his hair - he was almost bald since he was 18.

A picture of William Alfred Baynes with his wife VictoriaA picture of William Alfred Baynes with his wife Victoria

“He was also shot in the wrist.”

But William recovered from his injuries and served throughout the whole of the conflict, leaving as an acting captain.

He then returned to his “normal” life, getting a clerical job at the Port of London, where he met wife Victoria, and living in Ethelbert Gardens, now in Gants Hill.

However, only decades later, William was thrust back into the arena of war.

The chess set that William Alfred Baynes received from an engineer when they were stationed in Africa. The pink chess pieces are made of aluminium from a German plane shot down in the desert and the silver pieces are made from steel from a German tankThe chess set that William Alfred Baynes received from an engineer when they were stationed in Africa. The pink chess pieces are made of aluminium from a German plane shot down in the desert and the silver pieces are made from steel from a German tank

Mr Baynes said: “Literally two days after the outbreak of war he got a telegram asking him if he would go back into the Army at his old rank.

“In a few moments he had gone.”

William was “very fortunate” in the sense that he was not fighting in the infantry this time. Instead he served with the Royal Engineers and was in charge of supplies.

However, he still encountered danger. He was near the frontline at the Salerno landing, in Italy, and the Palermo landing, Sicily, where he worked to get all of the supplies for the men ashore.

A picture of William Alfred Baynes (front row), with the Royal engineersA picture of William Alfred Baynes (front row), with the Royal engineers

Mr Baynes believes it was for his actions there that he received his MBE.

William also had a lucky escape when he was in Bari, Italy.

“He was on a boat there, which was full of ammunition. He then left and a few minutes later it was hit by a bomb and completely destroyed.”

During the war, which William left as a major, he was also posted to North Africa. Here he managed to entertain himself with a pastime from home.

Mr Baynes said: “An engineer made a chess set for him. Unfortunately a couple of the pieces have got lost, but some are from a German plane and others are metal from a German tank.

“They are quite crude, but they were obviously just made in the desert. My father enjoyed playing chess.”

For most of the war, Mr Baynes lived with his mother in Cornwall. On one occasion, when his father was on leave, they had a startling experience.

“We were just ambling along and a man came up to my father and said, ‘You’re Bill Baynes aren’t you?’ My father indicated that this was indeed the case.

“The other man last saw my father in the trenches in the First World War. Goodness knows how he recognised him.”

Despite being a “normal ordinary father,” William, who died at the age of 75 in 1972, was undoubtedly affected by his experiences during the “war to end all wars”.

“He just didn’t talk about things which happened during the war, like many others. A lot of people saw absolutely ghastly things.

“He went through two world wars and came out - not many people did that.”

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Did a member of your family serve in the First World War? Do you have stories or memories from the period that you would like to share? Have you uncovered little-known facts or researched a particular subject to do with the war?

We would love to hear from our readers to shape our coverage of the centenary year.

Get in touch through Twitter or Facebook, email reporter Beth Wyatt at bethany.wyatt@archant.co.uk, call 020 8477 3988 or write to Beth Wyatt, Ilford Recorder, 539 High Road, Ilford, IG1 1UD, to take part

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