CAPTAIN THOMAS CHARLES RICHMOND BAKER, DFC, MM AND BAR
AUSTRALIAN FLYING CORPS
4TH NOVEMBER 1918 AGE 21
BURIED: ESCANAFFLES COMMUNAL CEMTERY, HAINAUT, BELGIUM
Before the war, Captain Baker DFC, MM and Bar was a clerk with the Bank of New South Wales. Enlisting in July 1915, he served originally with the 6th Australian Field Brigade. He won his first Military Medal in December 1916 and the Bar in June 1917. That September he applied to join the Australian Flying Corps as a mechanic and was accepted instead for flying training. He began active duty in June 1918 and was credited with seven aircraft and one balloon destroyed, and four planes brought down. Then on 4 November, when returning from a bombing raid, his plane was brought down behind enemy lines. His body was not recovered.
There is an extensive Australian Red Cross file on the incident, which is well worth reading. Extraordinarily it contains a request to the "Commanding General of the Flying Corps" from the Commander of Flying Squadron 5 for an acknowledgement of "the 26th air victory of the Airshipdriver Lieut. von Hantelman", who says:
"At 11.35 noon I attacked near Le Chesne a single-seated flying machine and shot it down. The adversary was smashed to pieces in falling down. von Hantelmann."
Why is the document in English, who is writing to who? The document is stamped Australian Red Cross Society, Prisoner of War Mission, Berlin W.8, Wilhelmstrasse, 70. Is it a translation of the German documents concerning the incident, translated so as to help the Red Cross locate Baker's body?
In September 1920 an unknown British Flying Officer's body was exhumed and reburied in Escanaffles Communal Cemetery. The exhumation report stated that the body was too broken and decayed for there to be any indication as to its hair colour or height, the clothing had rotted away and there was no identity disc, in fact there was nothing to identify the body other than the date of death, 6.11.18 - which wasn't of course the date Baker was shot down.
The bottom of the report has a pencil note - "Copy to Dame Livingstone". Dame Adelaide Livingstone was a remarkable American woman who, at the end of the war, "was appointed the Army Council head of the War Office mission to trace British soldiers reported as ‘missing’ in France and Flanders. In this capacity she travelled widely in Europe, managing a staff of officials from both Germany and England. Between 1920 and April 1922 she was assistant director of Graves Registration and Enquiries in central Europe, with headquarters in Berlin and with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. For her wartime services she was among the first women to be created DBE in 1918." [Oxford Dictionary of National Biography]
Thomas Baker's body was eventually identified and his mother was given the opportunity to chose an inscription. This comes from verse 6 of a poem written by Harold Begbie in 1905 called 'Trafalgar Day - the Good End':
Dishonour tarnished not his flag, no stain upon his battles lay,
Forth from the conflict, unashamed, he passed victorious on his way;
Forth from the conflict, unashamed, with thanks to God, without a sigh.
So died for England's sake, this man, and whispered it was sweet to die.
Draw near and mark with reverent mind
How die the Captains of Mankind.