Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

Conscientious Objector: Herbert Nickson Baker

In 1862 Henry Baker settled SE of Tonganoxie near Stranger Creek.   He was a Quaker from England who came to Tonganoxie via New York.  The location for his new  home had two criteria.  There needed to be a Quaker Church and a good farm with rich farmland.  Henry arrived in Tonganoxie in mid-January, and noticed the farmers were farming in their shirt sleeves.  He decided this was the place to call home.

Herbert Nickson Baker was Henry’s grandson. He was born Sept 25, 1894 to a strong Quaker family, and like all farm kids, helped with farm work.

After graduating from Tonganoxie High School, he attended Kansas State College. His name appears on a 1915-1917 list of Kansas State Students.  He was awarded a degree in Agriculture in 1920.  This would have been after his service in France as a Conscientious Objector (CO) under the American Friends Service Committee.

On June 12, 1917 the Leavenworth Times reported that Herbert N. Baker had registered with the Draft. The Selective Service Act of 1917 only provided members of the so called “Peace Churches” (Mennonite, Brethren and Friends or Quakers) the status of CO.  The CO’s were not exempt from militarynickerson uniform cor-1 duty, and still had to serve as a non combatant.  Generally, this was accomplished by serving as a corpsman, some hospital service, or an ambulance driver.

Eventually, because of the shortage of farm labor, the Conscientious Objectors were granted furloughs either for farm service or relief work in France under the American Friends Service Committee. Herbert Nickson Baker fulfilled his duty as a CO by serving in France under The American Friends Service Committee.

Following the 1st Battle of Marne, Sept 6-10, 1914, French farms had been severely damaged and were out of production.  The French Government was planning to plant grain in the  1918 growing year with seed provided by the the US government.  The French Civil Red Cross had asked for help in farm reconstruction in the Marne area of France.  The Friends Church in Tonganoxie of which Herbert was a member was aiding this project.

On Feb. 19, 1918 he filled out the paperwork in the Leavenworth Court house, and in March of 1918 he was on a ship heading to France.  He expected to be there 9 months, but he was prepared to stay longer if needed.

The Marne area was still considered a war zone and although it was not a prime zone, shells were still bombarding the area. The Second Battle of Marne, the final assault by the Germans,  began in July of 1918, while Herbert Baker was in this zone.

After his service as a CO, he taught biology and agriculture at Guilford College.  In 1925 he received his Master of Arts Degree from Johns Hopkins University.  HIs thesis was “Zoology Relation of Intensity of light to Rate of Turning in the Drone Fly”

He spent most of his life as a chemist working for the government.  His work involved the chemistry in chickens but not the actual chickens.

When his nieces were young they were somewhat afraid of him.  He was always working and then going to school.  He was a very determined man.  baker-farm-m-smithcWhen he would visit, many times he would walk to Leavenworth, a distance of ca. 20 miles, instead of riding .  He said it gave him time for thought.  He was considered a quiet person and very much a determined individual.

In 1971 he retired back to Tonganoxie to live with his sister Eva Baker Smith who lived on the property adjacent to the original Baker homestead.   Feb. 21, 1978 he died and is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery.

Perry Walters is a life long resident of the Tonganoxie, KS area. He graduated from Kansas University with a BS in Education with a minor in history and an AB in Science. He received a DDS degree from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He joined the Navy and served two years on active duty. One year was with the Fleet Marines in Okinawa. He retired from the Naval Reserves. He later received a Masters Degree in Periodontics and directed a graduate program in periodontics. Later he directed a hospital based dental clinic. After retirement he and his wife became active in the Tonganoxie Historical Society where he is the editor of their newsletter. He also films and edits movies of local people who know history.

1 Comment

  1. Bruce Baker

    Thank you for your article about my great uncle Herbert Baker. I did not know that he got a master’s degree, that was good information. FYI: his undergraduate degree specialization was Animal Husbandry according to his college transcript.

    Noted discrepancies: his grandfather was David Baker; his father was Herbert Henery Baker and family records show that they immigrated from England in either 1868 or 1869.

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