Obituary: Centenarian fisherman famed for having chickens that laid 'blueish' eggs
- Credit: CHRIS TAYLOR / SUPPLIED BY FAMILY
Waking up for work can often bring with it a sense of reluctance to leave the warmth of a comfortable bed.
Therefore, despite his love of the sea, it is no surprise that every day William Baker would ask the very same question asked by others around the world: “Will I go to work today? Or won’t I?”
Spoken in his soft Norfolk accent, the almost lyrical sound of the question coming from his mouth is what earned him the humorous nickname “Willago”.
And of course, that is exactly what the centenarian did for many years as the sea's call urged him to catch its edible treasures each and every day.
William Henry Baker, who was affectionately called Billy, was born a stone’s throw from the North Sea inside a little fishing cottage in Barchams Yard on the coast of Sheringham.
He arrived in the world on June 27, 1921, and was brought up in the family home until he was a teenager.
After attending the local schools, he began working on a nearby golf course collecting balls and caddying for visitors where he is said to have earned “quite a good living”.
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During his National Service, he was part of the Rifle Brigade and was seconded to the Desert Rats – the byname of the 7th Armoured Division made up of British soldiers who helped defeat the Germans in North Africa during the Second World War.
He became a personal bodyguard to an Egyptian ambassador and received the 1939-1945 Star Medal before being demobbed in 1945 and returning to his hometown.
He met his first wife Eunice around this time and they were given one of the first council houses to be built on the town’s new estate, Woodland Rise, where he lived for more than 30 years.
They had two children; Tony in 1952 and Tanya in 1954. They later divorced during the 1960s.
Although Mr Baker had trained as a carpenter at Letchworth Hall in Hertfordshire, he contracted tuberculosis during his late 20s, put down to poor sleeping conditions during the war. He faced a “slow road to recovery”, his son Tony explained, and while he recuperated in Sheringham he also spent some time inside an iron-lung, a type of earlier ventilator.
With a renewed determination to live a healthy life, he began working as a fisherman in the seaside town and remained to do so for many years.
Tony added: “He was fondly known as ‘Willago’ by people in the town after he would come down to the water’s edge in the morning and ask ‘Will I go? Won’t I go? Will I go today?’.
“The other fishermen caught on and he soon earned the nickname.
“He would wear a trilby hat and was one of the only fishermen guaranteed the sale of his stock after he struck a deal with a top London chef. For years, it was agreed that all of his crab and lobster catch would be put on a steam train and straight from Sheringham to London on the same day.
“That was a proud moment for him.”
Mr Baker remarried for a short while to Jean, but the couple would later divorce and he remained on his own from his late 70s.
He went on to become a beach inspector for the town during the 1980s and became renowned for walking up and down the beach in his famous white coat. He also worked on the putting green on the east cliffs.
He enjoyed gardening and kept geese, which he would take for a mile-round walk to a nearby pond for a swim, and chickens that laid unusual blueish eggs – an occasion so bizarre it became worthy of a segment on ITV’s About Anglia programme.
Mr Baker became a devoted Jehovah's Witness in 1956.
“His religion was everything to him,” Tony said. “He believed in something and he was true to that religion.
“He had a good life and spent some time living outside of Sheringham in East Runton and Aylmerton.
“He was a very mild-mannered man and he always saw the good in everyone. He did not have a bad word to say about anyone either. He was a true gent who never complained and always looked after his health.”
He also enjoyed travelling and going on holidays with his family.
Mr Baker died at Crossways Residential Home on March 31 aged 100, just 350 yards away from where he was born. He leaves behind his children, five grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
There will be a private family funeral and donations for the Sheringham branch of the RNLI can be donated via Fox's Funeral Service in Cromer.