Lifelong railwayman who rescued baby from burning building, dies aged 91
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
A heroic railwayman who saved a baby's life more than half a century ago has died at the age of 91.
Alan Arthur Baker, of Whitwell, near Reepham, first hit local headlines more than 58 years ago when his act of bravery made front-page news.
Born in Lakenham, Norwich, on August 24, 1929, Mr Baker revealed the terrifying moment in his book A Life on the Rails, published in 2019.
A volunteer at Whitwell and Reepham Railway Station, he first began penning his journey working on steam rails more than ten years ago.
At the time, he said reading it back to himself had given him lots of laughs as he reminisced about days gone by. However, it was one not so amusing incident in particular which stood out.
On the afternoon of March 15, 1962, Mr Baker was heading to his local for a Sunday pint when he saw flames coming out of a house window on Earlham Green Lane, Norwich.
Shortly after, a man ran out of the building and said there was a little boy still inside. Mr Baker went inside, up the stairs, and crawled on the floor before grabbing the baby, tucking him safely under his coat.
Despite being surrounded by flames, Mr Baker managed to crawl back out of the room and, after handing the baby over to his parents, ran back inside to chuck a wet blanket over the paraffin stove, believed to have been the cause of the fire.
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At the time, the story made the front page of the late final edition of the Eastern Evening News - now the Norwich Evening News - on Monday, March 19, 1962.
Later, Mr Baker was presented with a certificate from the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire from chief fire officer, Mr French, alongside the lord mayor of Norwich.
But it would not be for another 57 years until he would be reunited with the 19-month old - Phil Stracchino.
Following an appeal by this paper to find the baby, Mr Stracchino came forward and paid a heartfelt thank you to the railwayman who rescued him from the harrowing ordeal.
The married father-of-three, who lives in New Hampshire in the United States and works as a principal architect, had to spend eight months in the hospital following his ordeal.
His older sister Peri, who was aged two at the time, described Mr Baker as “amazingly brave and selfless”.
Mr Baker spent years of his life documenting engine numbers and drivers' names, while working as a railwayman for more than 50 years on the LNER, BR, IC and Anglia, and the M&GN.
An incident that stood out during his career happened on October 10, 1946, when he fell off a train's tender and hit his side on a buffer.
He was taken by ambulance to the hospital as an emergency case, where his father was told by a surgeon that he had to have an operation but the chances of survival were very poor. Miraculously, he lived to tell the tale.
His grandson, Liam James, 30, described his granddad as “absolutely wonderful”. He recalled many fond memories, including weekly meals together at The Ship in Reedham, along the River Yare.
He added: “He did anything and everything for anyone. He was so supportive and a great bloke who was always cheerful and very happy.
“He lived a great life.”
Whitwell and Reepham Station also paid tribute to Mr Baker via its Facebook page.
A post shared with its followers read: “It is with deep sadness that Alan Baker, our dear friend, and mentor to many of our crew, passed away whilst in hospital. Alan was always cheerful when he visited us and we all have fond memories of his stories that he loved to give.”
Mr Baker died on May 23, and leaves behind his remaining sibling, sister Jean Gunn.
A funeral service will be held on Monday, June 7, at 11.45am. Due to current restrictions, a webcast has been set up via Obitus (username: fivo1947 and password: 284692). A tribute page can be viewed at Much Loved where donations can be made to Mr Baker’s chosen charities - Caister Volunteer Lifeboat Service and the East Anglian Air Ambulance.
- A Life on the Rails, published by the Whitwell and Reepham Railway Preservation Society, can be purchased online.