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‘Accidental diplomat’ Baker launches book on illustrious career

SINGAPORE — He had always wanted to be a teacher, given his background in English language and love for literature. The last thing Mr Maurice Baker had expected was to get involved in the world of diplomacy — and making a lifelong career out of it.

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SINGAPORE — He had always wanted to be a teacher, given his background in English language and love for literature. The last thing Mr Maurice Baker had expected was to get involved in the world of diplomacy — and making a lifelong career out of it.

Mr Baker, now 94, was acquainted with government ministers from the early days of Singapore’s independence and had served as High Commissioner in several countries, including two stints in Malaysia.

His illustrious journey as an ambassador is captured in his autobiography, The Accidental Diplomat: The Autobiography of Maurice Baker, which was launched yesterday.

Apart from anecdotes from his days as a diplomat, the 278-page book, which took Mr Baker almost two decades to complete, also talks about his wartime experience during the Japanese Occupation in the early 1940s, as well as his time as a Queen’s scholar in the University of London after the occupation.

Former President S R Nathan, who was at the launch, said the book will offer readers insight into how a man of his education and literary skills “could blend with the common man and strive to achieve something for the common good of people”.

“I am certain that readers of Maurice Baker’s memoirs will be entertained by his many experiences during the years he spent as a diplomat in India, the Philippines and Malaysia,” Mr Nathan added.

One amusing experience Mr Baker recounted in the book relates to the time he unexpectedly signed up for a cheap tour to Budapest in August 1949. The Hungarian capital turned out to be a gathering place for young communists to celebrate the triumph of communism in Eastern Europe.

Mr Baker and his friends had no choice but to join the march — and the European communists thought they were guerilla fighters from the Malayan jungles.

The autobiography also highlights various crucial junctures in Singapore’s history, including Mr Baker’s observations as High Commissioner in Malaysia of the problems between the Chinese and Malay communities following the 1969 racial riots in Malaysia.

Mr Baker’s son Bernard said his father — who was present at the launch but did not speak to the media — had been inspired to write the book because “he just thought that he should have a record of his life for the family”.

“I don’t think he was ever very keen to have this book published. But some of his friends who knew that he was writing felt that he should publish it, because it would be useful for the future generations of Singapore to know more about the earlier years,” said Mr Bernard Baker, 57, who is also Singapore’s High Commissioner to South Africa. “I think he would be the happiest human being in the world if younger Singaporeans can say: ‘Ah yes, this is what happened then, and this is what I have learnt from those experiences’.”

The autobiography, published by World Scientific, will be sold at all major bookstores and retails at S$48 (hardcover) and S$28 (paperback).

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