The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (9470) Captain Thomas Charles Richmond Baker DFC MM and Bar, No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, First World War.

Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.186
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 5 July 2018
Access Open
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copyright restrictions apply. Only personal, non-commercial, research and study use permitted. Permission of copyright holder required for any commercial use and/or reproduction.

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by , the story for this day was on (9470) Captain Thomas Charles Richmond Baker DFC MM and Bar, No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, First World War.

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Speech transcript

9470 Captain Thomas Charles Richmond Baker DFC MM and Bar, No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps
KIA 4 November 1918
Story delivered 5 July 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Captain Thomas Charles Richmond Baker DFC MM and Bar.

Richmond Baker was born on 2 May 1897 in Smithfield, South Australia to Richmond Baker, a school master and farmer, and his wife Annie.

He grew up in Adelaide and attended one of the local primary schools. His father died on 4 November 1908, at the age of 65, leaving his mother to bring up the 11-year-old Richmond and his siblings.

Richmond Baker attended the Collegiate School of St Peters where he excelled at Australian Rules football, rowing and tennis and was awarded the Farrell Scholarship for his athletic prowess. He was also a member of the school’s cadets.

After completing his schooling, he worked as a bank clerk for the Adelaide branch of the Bank of New South Wales. He was also serving with the 11th Field Company Engineers militia unit.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Baker enlisted for service with his mother’s consent, on 15 July 1915. After completing his initial training in Adelaide, he was sent to Seymour in Victoria for training with the artillery.

At finishing his training, he was allotted to the 1st reinforcements to the 6th Field Artillery Brigade and embarked from Melbourne on 22 November 1915 aboard the transport ship Persic bound for Egypt.

In Egypt he was posted to the 6th Field Artillery Brigade and was transferred from the 16th to the 18th Battery after arriving in France in late March 1916. He took part in his first major action during the battle of Pozieres in July, after which his unit moved into the quieter Ypres sector in Belgium. By November, Baker’s unit had returned to France and was located near Gueudecourt.

On 11 December, Baker was the telephonist for his commanding officer, who was acting as a forward observation officer. The two men occupied an exposed position forward of the Australian front line and were under constant sniper and artillery fire. As the phone line was being continually cut by artillery fire, Baker went out into the open under heavy fire no less than four times to repair the line in order to maintain communications. For his actions he was awarded the Military Medal. He would be awarded a Bar to his MM near Messines in June 1917 after helping putting out a fire in a gun position which had threatened to detonate around 300 rounds of shrapnel and high explosive shells.

When Baker was young, aircraft were very much a novelty; he had been taken with this new mode of transport, building model aircraft and dreaming of becoming a pilot. This dream had never faded, and he often watched aircraft in action overhead with a sense of envy.

In late September 1917 his application for transfer to the Australian Flying Corps as a mechanic was accepted. He was selected to undergo pilot training and at the beginning of October was posted to the No.1 School of Military Aeronautics at Reading. He qualified as a pilot and was commissioned as a second lieutenant at the end of March 1918. Such was his skill as a pilot he was offered a job as an instructor, but he declined, asking to be posted to an operational squadron instead.

Baker joined No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps in France in late June and was promoted to lieutenant the same day. He scored his first aerial victory while flying a Sopwith Camel in July, bringing down a Fokker D.VII. By the end of August, he had added another three enemy aircraft to his score, becoming an ace pilot.

A visit to the squadron by King George V and General Sir William Birdwood the same month was a particular highlight for Baker. In a letter home he described how Birdwood had personally introduced him to the King, recounting how the King had asked how he had won the Military Medal and Bar and also “how many Huns” he had shot down. He concluded his letter by telling his mother that King George seemed “a jolly decent sort.”

At the end of August, Baker travelled to Scotland on leave. He wrote home describing his stay with Lady Ethel Lady Ethel Baird, the daughter of the former Governor of South Australia, noting that he played billiards every evening with Miss Law, the daughter of the future British Prime Minister, and had been introduced to many notable people.

After returning to France in mid-September, Baker returned to operational flying. He shot down a further two German aircraft at the beginning of October before the squadron was re-equipped with Sopwith Snipe fighters. On 24 September Baker was promoted to temporary captain and made a flight commander, and over the next week, he added a further six enemy machines to his score, bringing his total to 12.

On 4 November Baker led his flight as part of an escort for a bombing operation against a German aerodrome near Ath in Belgium. The bombing was successful, but on the return journey, the group encountered a large number of German aircraft. In the ensuing dogfight, four German aircraft were recorded as being shot down, but the men of No. 4 Squadron suffered five aircraft shot down, including Baker’s.

His aircraft was seen to crash land behind enemy lines by several pilots and he was initially recorded as missing in action. But despite searches by ground and air, he remained unaccounted for. A court of enquiry held in February 1919 determined that he had been killed in action on the 4th of November.

Thomas Baker was 21 years old when he died, killed in action on the tenth anniversary of his father’s death.

Baker’s remains were later located and identified by an Imperial War Graves team. Today his remains lie in the Escanaffles Communal Cemetery at Hainault in Belgium.

A squadron mate and fellow ace pilot, Lieutenant Leonard Taplin DFC, described Baker as “One of the most brilliant boys … he was one of the best fliers I have ever seen.”

Baker was posthumously promoted to captain and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation summed up his brief, but spectacular career as a fighter pilot:

This officer has carried out some forty low-flying raids on hostile troops, aerodromes, etc., and has taken part in numerous offensive patrols. He has, in addition destroyed eight hostile machines. In all these operations he has shown exceptional initiative and dash, never hesitating to lead his formation against overwhelming odds, nor shrinking from incurring personal danger.

Thomas Baker’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 62,000 Australians who died while serving in the First World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Captain Thomas Charles Richmond Baker DFC MM and Bar, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

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