But holding a variety of top jobs with one of the world’s top fuel providers, Shell, is a little distant from a life of fun and games. “Like being shot at whilst flying a Cessna plane – which I only found out about when I landed – far from fun, to recall just one incident,” Paul informs me, “This was during the war in Biafra, Nigeria in the 1960s and during all my years with Shell there were other unusual and sometimes awkward experiences.”
Paul Baker, 87, started his working life like many of us did on the Rock, in HM Dockyard. He was a marine engineering apprentice. I remember when I started I earned twelve shillings and six pence in old currency, a week! Even as far back as then he seemed to be hanging around danger zones. “I was working on a Royal Navy frigate. I went to the workshop for a spare part when a blast sent me flying to other end of the building, luckily, unscathed… The ammunition ship Bedenham blew up!”
Paul’s hardly ‘incident free’ working life provided more near misses as he moved on. He left the Dockyard and joined Shell in employment reminiscent of today’s Bay of Gibraltar activities. “Yes, I became 2nd Engineer on one of seven Shell tankers anchored in the bay, the SS Ficus, offering bunkers to ships in the early 50s sailing in and out of the Mediterranean delivering food and supplies to war torn countries known as the ‘US Marshall Plan’ during the aftermath of WW2.” During that decade he came ashore and became Airport Superintendant. “Travelling to work one day, the barrier came down at the runway without warning. A Canadian plane made an emergency landing and hit a Spanish cyclist just ahead of me that managed to get through just as the barrier closed. He was hit and body parts landed in front of my car! It was an incredible and unfortunate accident that I am sure many sadly remember.”
“Like being shot at whilst flying a Cessna plane – far from fun.”
The early 60s saw Shell send Paul to the African continent with his wife and two children where they experienced no less than four coups d’état! “I was sent to Lagos Airport in Nigeria and inspected airports all over the country. On one occasion I was trapped at the airport under rebel control. My wife and children were at home in an area controlled by the Government! I drove into the airport and met a rebel Air Force major who provided my men with a jeep and armed escort to fuel a BOAC aircraft for takeoff. The airline engineer with me had a near escape… he was told to stop but took no notice… shots were fired that whizzed past me and closer to him which made him stop in his tracks: He turned white!”
Travel is the name of the game for Paul and the family. Australia and that part of the world came next in the late 60s and 70s. As an Administrative Assistant in Melbourne, he travelled around inspecting airports – for Shell of course – then onto Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands and other surrounding islands, taking annual leave in New Zealand and The Philippines: “Scuba diving around sharks was never a problem. On another dive, after there had been an earthquake on the Solomon Islands, a wartime Japanese ship lying on the beach had moved by the tremor and inside the hold I found a wooden box with bullets and sake cups, some of which I still have at home.”
1980 saw Paul take on a more, ‘mundane job’ in Shell’s Head Office in London, responsible for advising Shell’s operations in much of the African continent: The Seychelles, Mauritius, West and Central Africa and The Maghreb countries of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in the north… But it didn’t end there. Paul speaks French, which helped in many of those countries, but then Spanish was put to good use too when a voice from above asked, “Paul, can you pop over to South America and do some operational audits for us?”
“A Canadian plane made an emergency landing and hit a Spanish cyclist.”
“That’s right, and that resulted in my visiting every country in Central and South America except Ecuador. I was also on loan to a government company in Caracas Venezuela, as an Aviation Advisor, visiting the Antilles islands also!” Constantly on the move, Paul has also spent time in the Scandinavian countries and Spain, even running a course in Gibraltar. Back to London for a few months but his French and his aviation advice took him back to Africa in the mid 80s to Côte d’Ivoire, responsible for the thirteen Francophone countries in West Africa and The Gambia.
“Being constantly on the go meant the family stayed in the UK coming over during school holidays to Abidjan. It was 1989, and I finally retired!” But instead of the customary golden watch, he was given an airline ticket to the Bahamas for more work in the Caribbean Islands as a consultant dishing out more aviation advice. By then he certainly deserved a break. Two holiday relief trips were offered to Qatar and Dubai. Unsurprisingly, he took them too!
“Scuba diving around sharks was never a problem.”
In the mid-90s Paul Baker the ‘Gibraltarian workhorse’ returned to the African continent yet again, for training courses, “And at last my final job as a consultant took me to Hong Kong to help set up the fuelling facilities at the new airport. I spent a year there and visited China, Tibet and Indonesia.” Finally, he’s now retired and thanks his wife and family for being so patient and accommodating, “Yes, I must also say I could not have done this job without my family’s kind understanding, especially the hardships my wife has had to put up with without complaint, following me around the world with two and later four children in tow. It’s important to point out also the tolerant attitude which has always existed on the Rock which has certainly helped me work amongst so many of the world’s cultures and religions without encountering a single problem.”
Paul Baker is probably our most travelled individual and the fact he eventually retired and claimed that, at 87, was “past [his] sell by date”, turned out to be one big joke! He continued to travel; since retirement he’s been to Russia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, India, Nepal, the US, Japan, Tahiti, Fiji, Hawaii, Canada, all over Europe and more. But he looks good in his 80s and shows no sign of stopping… or does he now take it easy relaxing at home?
“Nope. You’ve heard of Maynmar, the former Burma? Well that’s next, and soon!”
Paul Baker says if he’d not become a fuel specialist, he would have liked to have been a geologist.
Well, he’s only an octogenarian… Watch this space!