Arthur Bartrum BAKER O.B.E.

Serial Number: NZ1674
RNZAF Trade: Works
Date of Enlistment: 8th of August 1942
Date of Demob: 12th of April 1945
Rank Achieved: Flying Officer
Flying Hours: nil
Operational Sorties: nil

Date of Birth: Born on the 24th of February 1903, in Christchurch
Personal Details: Arthur Baker was an agricultural entrepreneur. He had begun his career in agriculture from an early age. He learned to farm in South Canterbury as a youngster on both high country runs and lower level cropping areas.

At the age of 15 he moved to the North Island and became a shepherd on a sheep station at Matahiwi on the Wanganui River.He was keen to own his own land, so at the age of 21 he began to gather capital by taking a job sharemilking on heavy swamp country near Wanganui. The conditions were appalling - with no concrete yards and not even a bath in the house - so after four years of that he decided to put dairying behind him.

He leased 460 acres of land near Feidling in 1928. Two years later he converted 70 acres of that land to wheat, growing for the grain and seed firm Hodder and Tolly. Over the next four years his wheat crop was increased to the point that in addition to his own land, he was growing another 100 acres of wheat on his neighbours' properties under a share agreement. However 1934 was a disastrous year for wheat due to wet conditions, and over half the 500 acre crop was no good. It eventually all sold as inferior grade fowl wheat.

This did not deter Arthur though, and the following year he purchased an International Harvester, in a deal that no deposit was needed, and a third of the asking price was paid after each harvest season over three years.

In 1938 his lease was to run out, but he planned for this early and near the end of 1936 he purchased 700 acres at Whitehall near Cambridge at £ 5 5/ an acre. He developed the land rapidly using modern equipment, including the first crawler tractors with giant discs to be used on hill country. This proved very successful and soon his equipment was in much demand by other farmers. He began to contract outside work using the machinery, and this ran into many thousands of acres. The first such land was a well known property owned by Mr Alex Miller at Maungatautari.

In 1941 Arthur Baker purchased an adjoining property to his at Whitehall, and with this new 376 acre addition his farm totalled 1076 acres. In 1942 he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Following his RNZAF career, in which he'd served overseas from 1943 to 1945, he returned to Cambridge and became actively involved with Federated Farmers. He became the first chairman of the newly formed Whitehall Federated Farmers in 1947, and from 1948-50 was chairman of the Cambridge Sub-Prince. From 1952-53 he was chairman of the Waikato Meat and Wool Section and a member of the Dominion Council.

In 1949 he was chairman of the Waikato insurance investigation committee and when the Waikato Province assumed the agency for the Wellington Farmers' Mutual Insurance Association he became a director. He resigned this post in 1958 through pressure of his Meat Board business.

From 1957-64 he was the first chairman of the Meat Board air freight committee, visiting Hong Kong and Pacific countries to set up distribution networks of air cargo meat from New Zealand. He travelled widely in other roles for the Meat Board, though Europe, North and South America and to Japan.

In 1946 Arthur bought his first private aircraft, a Gipsy Moth. It cost him £300, and one use he found for it was seeding new strains of white clover onto his hilly property at Whitehall. A report said, "The method was to have a passenger in the front seat with a bag of seed and throwing the clover over the side from an Edmonds baking powder tin. This was before the first aerial topdressing and the passenger, a former Wing Commander, declared at the finish that he would have preferred to return to combat flying."

In 1947 Arthur Baker and Ossie James set up the James Aviation group, which owned fourteen companies, and he remained a director of that company for many years. For decades it has been one of the largest aerial topdressing companies in New Zealand. Arthur and Ossie were true pioneers of topdressing a method of dispatching fertiliser or seed to pasture from the air, which incidentally was first trialled scientifically by the RNZAF using Grumman Avengers and is now a method used the world over.

After the Gipsy Moth, Arthur would own four further private planes. The last such was a Miles Gemini M65-1A which he'd bought from the Wellington Aero Club in 1957. He used his aircraft extensively for both business and pleasure, and he found them a useful tool for business before the days when Rukuhia was serviced by NAC. Due to heart problems he was forced to relinquish his flying licence in 1965, and he decided to donate the Gemini to the Museum of Transport and Technology at Western Springs in Auckland. The Gemini is still there today.

Arthur was also deputy-chairman of the Bay of Plenty Co-operative Fertiliser Company, a director of the Auckland Farmers Freezing Co-op, director of Messrs Newton and King, managing director of Earthmovers Waikato Ltd and Baker Construction Ltd. He had also been a President of the Cambridge Men's Club, and was an Honorary member of Cambridge Rotary, of which he'd been a founding member in 1947 (the second person to take up membership on its formation). He had served as President to Rotary in 1953.

In 1966 Arthur Baker was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to agriculture.

Arthur was married to a French lady, Andree, who held three French honours including the Croix de Gruere. He was also father to Adrienne (Mrs Terry Tracy), Neville, Jocelyn, Gerard and Monique.

Service Details: Arthur was a member of No. 1 Islands Works Squadron, Arthur was a Works Officer, charged with the maintenance and upkeep of airfields and stations. He spent time in the Islands - where and when exactly is not yet fully established. It seems he may have run one of the RNZAF saw mills.

He was awarded the United States Commendation on the 13th of November 1944, which was presented by Major General Maxwell Murray of the US Army (of Commanding Headquarters Island Command) for "his spirit of cooperation and his production of lumber - a critical item, invariably in short supply."

Details of Death: Died on the 2nd of November 1969, suddenly, in his garden at his residence in Shakespeare Street, Leamington, aged 66. When he died the community lost a great man. Over 500 people attended his funeral at St Andrew's Church, and over 100 ex-servicemen formed a Guard of Honour and laid poppies on his casket as it left the church. He was cremated at Hamilton's Newstead Crematorium, where a number of topdresser aircraft made a flyover in close formation, as a tribute to a pioneering man.

Connection with Cambridge: Arthur bought land at Whitehall, Cambridge in 1936. After breaking in the land he moved to Cambridge permanently in 1941.

Note: Information on this pages has been sourced from the Waikato Independent newspaper, and from Colin Hanson's excellent book By Such Deeds


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