2016 Premier’s ANZAC Spirit School Prize Essay – Thomas Charles Richmond Baker

Source: Talia Goodliffe, Aberfoyle Park High School

2016 PREMIER’S ANZAC SPIRIT SCHOOL PRIZE

download (1)Thomas Baker, born May 2nd 1897 to Annie Martha and Richmond Baker, was a farm boy. Being raised in Smithfield, a northern agricultural suburb of Adelaide by his father who was a schoolmaster and farmer, set him up for a life of hard work, discipline and accomplishments. His father unfortunately died on November 4th 1908 when Thomas was 11, leaving his mother Annie as his next of kin. Thomas attended Saint Peter’s Collegiate and discovered a love and passion for sport, featuring in rowing, tennis and football. He was described  as  an accomplished sportsman and ended up winning the Farrell Scholarship for athletic prowess at St. Peter’s during his high school career. Along with his sport, he also had a captivation with aeroplanes and playing his mandolin, evident in the contents of suitcases forwarded to his mother after his death.

Prior to the war, he served in the compulsory Military Service Scheme in the Cadet Corps,  under  the  Universal  Training  System. He was  a part  of the  11th Field Company Engineers in the Militia, this unit renowned  for its action during the Battle of Somme. Upon leaving school in 1914, he joined the Adelaide Branch of the Bank of New South Wales as a clerk, his mother, by then a widow. On the 29th of July 1915, Baker joined  the AIF (Australian Imperial Force), allocated to the 1st  Reinforcements  of  the  6th  Field  Artillery  Brigade.  His  basic  training  was completed  in  Adelaide,  but  he  concluded  his  artillery  training  in  Seymour, Victoria. It was on the 22nd of November 1915 that he embarked to the Middle East from Melbourne on his quest to serve in the great war.

Baker was attached to the 16′” Battery of the 6tl’ Field Artillery Brigade on the 26th of December 1915 in Toura, Benin, 3,570 km away from Egypt. This Battery consisted of six 18 pounder guns, each assigned to a gToup of up to 10 men, drawn by a collective of 6 horses. The battery trained in Egypt and then embarked to France on the 17th of March 1916 to take part in the first Battle of the Somme (fought between July 1, 1916 – November 18, 1916). The fight for Pozieres and Mouquet Farn brought on heavy artillery exchanges, Baker and the 16th Battery surviving throughout all of it. Guedecourt was designated to be the home for the AIF that winter, and also the place at which Thomas would do a great service to the Australian Army on the 11th of December, 1916. He was assigned to a Forward Observer team sent out near Guedecourt to distinguish the fire of guns with only a field telephone for communication. Thomas was under heavy fire and constant observation of enemy snipers, yet repaired the damaged phone line in over thirty places to re-establish the lost connection. T’his courageous act earned him a Military Medal, to which he later earned the Military Bar in an event the following year.

In Messines on the afternoon of the 21st of June 1917, Baker had been  reconnected  to his Battery after he recovered from trench fever, which was being heavily shelled. There were 5 casualties in the immediate hits and all ranks were ordered to take cover. The camouflage on the No. 1 pit had caught on fire, putting around 300 rounds of shells of high explosives in danger at around 3:30pm. B.S.M. Creeke had asked for volunteers to assist him in putting out the fire, to which Bal<..er and three other men responded to immediately. At great personal risk, all five men put out the fire using water gathered from a local well and in shell holes. Bal<..er and the three other men, including Brown, Bishop and  McSweeney, were each awarded  the Military  Medal Bar for this act.

During August 1917, Bal<..er had begun directing his focus to the Australian Flying Corps, building on his dream to eventually join, even remarking that he was “almost green with envy” upon vvitnessing allied aviators in action. In September 1917 he was transferred to a mechanic position for the A.F.C., soon after, being chosen to undergo Hying training for the No. 5 Flying Squadron in  England.

He completed his first solo flight in March 1918. Thomas went on leave from his training in England from the 31st of August, re-joining on the 15th of September. He graduated on the 15th of June 1918 as a pilot of a Sopwith Camel, and was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant for the No. 4 Fighter Squadron. Baker’s flying career was a spectacular one, lasting a brief 4 months. Between June 23rd and November 4th Thomas had shot down 12 enemy aircraft in both his Sopwith Camel and his Sopwith Sniper. During October, Baker destroyed 2 hostile aircraft and drove a 3rd out of control, two weeks later destroying yet another one. His clever tactics and character portrayed through his flying, earned him his Distinguished Flying Cross. His final flight was on the 4th of November, just one week short of the Armistice, over the city of Ath, Belgium, where he and a colleague were in combat ‘ th a gaggle of Gennan Fokker DVII’s, when Thomas was unfortunately shot down and reported missing in action. His death was later confirmed and greatly mourned by his squadron, his pre\ ous Battery, and his family.

Thomas was given the promotion to Captain posthumously, along with his most prestigious award, the Distinguished Flying Cross on the 23rd of May, 1919. Along with his excellent piloting skills and his pure determination, his accomplishments during October with the destruction of the hostile aircraft earned it for him, unluckily after he could accept it.

From Baker’s gunner  days to his career as a pilot, he always demonstrated utmost courage, bravery, sacrifice and gallantly, never showing signs of fear or hesitation. The stories that tell of his most recognised acts of spirit are those of which earned him his three medals, the Military Medal, the Bar to such award, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

During the event and the months prior to his work repairing phone lines at Guedecourt, earning him his MM, he proved to be valorous, putting himself in danger for the good of his Battery, the same going for his MM Bar. He took initiative and did what he knew was right in these situations where most men would have run for their lives. By subjecting himself to enemy scopes, flames, shrapnel and shells, and staying focused on what he needed to do without hesitation, he gained ultimate respect and proved his valuable qualities, recognised and commemorated by these awards.

In the recommendation for his MM,  the statement “During the last six weeks BAKER has on several occasions rendered equally good service and shown great devotion to duty.” (unknown, 1917) was added in, complimenting that in his Distinguished Flying Cross recommendation declaring that; “Lieut. BAKER has rendered most valuable services in connection with serial offensive operations since joining No. 4 A.F.C. … this officer has  shown  exceptional determination and courage… he has always shown great qualities of initiative and dash, and has never shrunk, in face of danger, from causing the maximum amount of loss and damage to the enemy” (E.R. Ludlow Hewitt, 30tl’ October, 1917). The men in high rank in both the 16tl’ Battery and the 4t1· Squadron in the A.F.C. all noticed Thomas’ spirit, Tom joining the other Australian soldiers proving equal qualities, earning a name for our country and defining the ANZAC spirit of which we should aspire to attain.

After Thomas’ death, his close friend Mr. Stanford Howard, late Lieutenant of  the same squadron in the AIF, wrote an article on the feats of Tom that was published in the St. Peter’s Collegiate School Magazine. “From the outset [of his pilot career] he showed abilities as a pilot far above the average… His sterling qualities were soon recognised. After very little experience he was leading patrols … the responsibility of the lives of the whole patrol devolves upon the leader … on several occasions he saved his patrol from destruction … he grew utterly fearless”. (S. Howard, 1918. All following quotes are from the same source) Baker had taken on such responsibility in such a short time period that he was nothing but appreciated and commended for his work. “He was the friend of all inexperienced pilots because they knew Baker would not leave then-i long in any predicament … his machine could be seen darting here and there, always to the help of those in difficulties … he met his death in the defence of others… fighting to the last”. There is so much evidence supporting his need to put others before himself, how good of a friend he was, the impact he made on his squadron especially, how much of a role model he was built up to be, and his pure heart through and through, perfectly encapsulating the qualities that the ANZAC spirit is defined to include.

Thomas had made an impact great enough on his friend Howard to be thought of as “the most gallant airman that left these his native shores”, Howard selling Tom’s story to South Australians in an effort to spread his spirit and tell of the simple farm boy from a small town in Adelaide that achieved such greatness. “He left a splendid memory, of which his family is justly proud, and in this pride all grateful South Australians should share” (S. Howard, 1918). With the publishing of his story came proud South Australians, willing to honour his justice and keep his spirit alive. To do so, a stained glass window was installed in the St. John’s Anglican Church on Halifax Street, Adelaide, not only representing his religion and the location to which he grew up, but his bravery and honour. The scripture under the window reads “In proud and loving memory of Captain Thomas Charles Richmond Baler D.F.C. M.M. BAR” and in the picture he is portrayed as an extravagant knight, sword in hand, how the families and the church communities truly see him for the work he did defending this country.

Read the PDF version of the essay below:

Thomas Charles Richmond Baker – Talia Goodliffe