Sidney man was a boy without a family

Sidney Baker recalls growing up among other U.K. children in need.

Sidney Baker holds up a photo of himself at the Watts Naval Training School as a young man. Baker will be going back to England next month to help mark the 150th anniversary of a charity that helped orphans and vulnerable children

Sidney Baker lived much of his entire life not knowing that he had a family.

When he was two years old and living in England, Baker’s father died and his mother attempted suicide by putting the gas on in the family house. Those incidents sent Baker and his siblings to the police. That is when a man named Thomas John Barnardo came into play — a man who changed Baker’s life for the better.

Barnardo ran a charity in the United Kingdom , established in 1866, to care for vulnerable children and young people, specifically orphans. Baker was taken in by the charity, which housed and schooled many children.

Baker said that at the time, being so young, he had no memory of his siblings.

He spent the next nine years in various Barnardo schools — known at the time as Dr. Barnardo’s Homes. They have since been renamed to Barnardo’s and the charity is today considered the U.K.’s largest children’s charity.

Baker said he was separated from his siblings, all of whom were of different ages, who were put in different homes. However, he added he is forever grateful for the work that Barnardo’s did many years ago.

“I feel lucky that I was where I was and I’m also lucky because I didn’t know any different,” he told the PNR.

Baker said he eventually decided to join the Royal Navy. So, Barnardo’s sent him off to a home called Watts Naval Training School when he was 11 years old.

Baker showed the PNR an old photo of a large group of young boys at the naval school, including himself, eating food in a cafeteria type setting. In the photo, not far from one another was one of Baker’s brothers, who Baker didn’t know was his sibling at the time.

He said all 300 boys went without names.

“We were all numbered. My number was 225, and I was known as 225. My bed was 225, where I sat at the table was 225, any of my clothes were 225.”

Now in his 80s, Baker lives in Sidney and was recently invited by the charity to return to England to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Barnardo’s.

That celebration is taking place in May at Buckingham Palace, with more than 250 former Barnardo’s children. He said he’ll be going and taking his own daughter with him.

Baker said it took him years to even know he had siblings.

In 1963, when the government in the U.K. made all of the orphanages open their books, Baker and his wife (who died nine years ago), travelled to England and went to the charity’s office.

He was informed then that he had siblings.

“I was 63 years old before I knew I had four brothers and a sister.”

Over the entirety of his life, Baker said he never heard from his mother but said she knew where they were.

“That was one thing I cannot understand at all,” he said.

Baker was able to meet some of his brothers but was unable to meet his sister and one of his brothers as they had already died. He has, however, met his sister’s daughter and his deceased brother’s wife and family.

“It was very difficult actually,” he said about meeting his lost siblings. “You wouldn’t think so, but the difficulty was that we had little to talk about.”

He has one brother left, the second oldest brother who is now 94. They communicate with each other still, from time to time.

Barnardo, born in Dublin, died in 1905. He founded and opened 96 homes caring for over 8,000 vulnerable children by the time of his death. Barnardo move to London to become a doctor, but gave that up to help destitute children. In 1867 he set up a school where poor children could get a basic education. He later opened homes for both boys and girls.

Barnardo’s closed its last orphanage in the late 1980s and continues providing fostering and adoption services.

The charity works with more than 200,000 vulnerable children and young people every year, in four locations around the globe: the U.K.; Australia; Ireland and New Zealand.

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