William Harold Baker
- 138Wallaby Number
A tough, athletic, mobile flanker who joined Randwick from Eastern Suburbs in 1914 and who, that season, represented NSW once and Australia three times, all against New Zealand. Before playing with Eastern Suburbs he had been a member of the Sydney District Football Club until it was disbanded in 1910. He enlisted during World War I but did not make it to the front line as he seriously injured his spine on the way to Europe. Eddie Kann wrote of him in Easts Rugby Story: “A man of indomitable spirit and courage was Baker whose career seemingly ended when he fell down the hold of a troopship and broke his spine. He was in plaster from his neck to his toes for no less than two years. Try to imagine his ordeal. “He had to be immovable for four years, and further years elapsed before he could walk in anything like a normal manner.
During that period Baker wrote: ‘For the last five months I could feel nothing excepting in the last few days. I noticed a slight sensation in my toes.... I am anxious to don my uniform again.’. “His splendid physique and grit not only pulled him through but in the late 1920s he was able to swim, surf, row, play football and, in fact, prove as efficient at these and other sports as a man many years his junior”. After he recovered Baker coached Randwick firsts from 1923 to 1930, steering the team to its first premiership in first grade, in 1930. Baker was an outstanding surfer and in 1911 was involved, with fellow Randwick stalwart, Jimmy Clarken, in a mass rescue of over twelve surfers at Coogee beach, for which he was later awarded the Albert Medal. He was the brother of legendary Australian sportsman, Reginald “Snowy” Baker.
He was, for some years, president of Coogee Surf Life-Saving Club. Harold Baker was an Australian boxing and wrestling champion, a fine oarsman and weightlifter and a member of the famous Flying Squadron swim relay team that set world records. He was the Australian water polo captain an Australasian sprint swim champion. In 1907 he won the 100 and 220 yards championships and, in the 100 yards, broke the winning sequence of Olympian Cecil Healy in that event. He also refereed boxing matches and, in 1914, after playing for Australia against New Zealand, refereed a boxing match that night featuring Les Darcy. He became the top referee at Sydney Stadium. Baker managed the NSW rugby team which toured New Zealand in 1925; members of that team have since been accorded Australian representative status.
He was honoured in 1931 as one of Randwick's first three life members. In his “The Spirit of Rugby”, Gordon Bray, in his Prelude, quotes Harold Baker's article in the NSW Rugby Union News of May 19, 1929: “The Hon Mr Charles Oakes, the Acting Premier, said at the recent reunion of Rugby Union players, held in Sydney that many of our most prominent professional and business men owed much of their success to their early associations and friendships made on the rugby fields of this country’. “When Mr Oakes makes a statement of this kind he knows the ground he is covering , for his connection with our game dates back for many years; he having been a prominent office holder with Easts for over 20 years.
“There is a spirit existing in union football, and has existed as long as I can remember, that makes one proud of the knowledge of having at some time in his career been actively associated with this grand old game - a game that is played for recreation's sake; in which only the best qualities of a sportsman are called for. “It is these qualities, so inherent in all union players, that makes a meeting with any old rugby comrade such a delight. “It doesn't matter where, or under what circumstances you meet an old player whether he be socially in a seemingly inaccessible position above you, or whether through bad luck he may have slipped back into the depths, the fact that you have in the past played in the same team, or perhaps tackled and brought one another down heavily, is sufficient to bring you together again – to fight your matches over once more.
“These old games will never be forgotten - the old tries will be scored again, and so will the brilliant runs down the wing be made once more. These are all wonderful remembrances - recollections that will take old players back to many hard-fought battles. A flanker, his first Test was against New Zealand on 18 July 1914 at the Sydney Sports Ground, a 0 to 5 loss. Baker was in each of the three games against the All Blacks and one can only conjecture how many Tests he might have played if World War I had not broken out. The next international games Australia played would be in 1920. Doss Wallach, Fred Thompson, Harold George and Bill Tasker would die in the war. His brother ,'Snowy', is generally considered as Australia's finest -ever sportsman, but Harold was not far behind, and when it came to the game of rugby, Harold made a more significant contribution.
“William Harold Baker (1887-1962), was born on 29 September 1887 in Sydney. He was a notable swimmer, winning three New South Wales championships in 1906 and captaining the Australian water polo team. He played Rugby football three times against New Zealand and won boxing and wrestling championships. With Snowy he worked for Stadiums Ltd and refereed many of Darcy's most important fights, including the one against Fritz Holland on 12 September 1914 when he disqualified Darcy for a foul. He was described as a 'man with a marble mouth and a jaw of steel. A man of ice with frozen eyes and a frozen voice'. Captain of Maroubra Surf Club in 1900-10, on 28 January 1910 he took part in a famous surf rescue of over 100 people at Cronulla Beach and was awarded the Albert Medal for bravery; a public subscription for him raised a thousand pounds in its first week. He died on 17 October 1962 at Woollahra, survived by a daughter and by his wife Nellie Innes Sara, nee Crawshaw, whom he had married on 12 June 1912.”