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Thomas Charles Baker (1897–1918)

by John McCarthy

This article was published:

Thomas Baker, 1915 [detail]

Thomas Baker, 1915 [detail]

Australian War Memorial, H12860

Thomas Charles Richmond Baker (1897-1918), soldier and airman, was born on 2 May 1897 at Smithfield, South Australia, eldest son of Richmond Baker, schoolmaster and farmer, and his wife Annie Martha, née Gardner, and nephew of Thomas Baker photographic scientist. He was educated from 1911 at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, where he won the Farrell Scholarship, rowed, played tennis and football and was a member of the cadet corps. On leaving school in 1914 he became a clerk in the Adelaide branch of the Bank of New South Wales.

Enlisting on 29 July 1915, Baker embarked in November for the Middle East as a reinforcement gunner for the 6th Field Artillery Brigade; his battery, the 16th, moved on from Egypt to France, arriving in time to take part in the first battle of the Somme. As a gunner he showed considerable courage. He won his first Military Medal on 15 December 1916 in an action near Gueudecourt: as part of an observation team sent forward to record the fall of shot and to secure the range for a bombardment, he repeatedly repaired broken telephone lines while under heavy fire. Shortly after this episode he was awarded a Bar to his Military Medal when, at great personal risk, he put out a fire in a gun-pit containing ammunition.

Though he had proved himself a competent gunner, Baker centred his hopes on joining the Australian Flying Corps. As a boy his chief hobby had been making model aeroplanes and in France aerial combat captured his imagination. In August 1917 he remarked that he was 'almost green with envy' on seeing Allied aviators in action. When an opportunity arose in September he transferred to the A.F.C. as an air mechanic, but he was selected for flying and sent to England to No. 5 Training Squadron; he made his first solo flight in March 1918. On 15 June he graduated as a Camel pilot and next day, with a total of 57 hours 40 minutes flying time, joined No. 4 Fighter Squadron as a second lieutenant. Baker's operational career extended from 23 June, when he first crossed the lines, to his death in a fierce battle against odds over Ath on 4 November. During this period he destroyed eight enemy aircraft and was credited with having forced down four more. Several of these victories were against the highly effective Fokker biplane fighter; often he closed to ten or twenty feet before destroying them. He had been promoted lieutenant on 27 June. Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross and promotion to captain were both posthumous; his D.F.C. citation referred to 'exceptional initiative and dash'.

Baker had a forceful yet pleasant personality, was a fine pilot and became a steady, respected flight-leader. He often quoted Shakespeare in his letters. He was buried in the communal cemetery, Escanaffles, Belgium, and a stained-glass window is dedicated to his memory at St John's Church of England, Halifax Street, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Richards, Australian Airmen: History of the 4th Squadron, Australian Flying Corp (Melb, 1918)
  • Bank of New South Wales Roll of Honour (Syd, 1921)
  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1936)
  • London Gazette, 19 Feb, 21 Aug 1917, 8 Feb 1919
  • Mail (Adelaide), 15 Nov 1919
  • No. 4 Squadron, letters, logbooks and war diary (Australian War Memorial)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

John McCarthy, 'Baker, Thomas Charles (1897–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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