BAKER, Percy

Service Number: 5437
Enlisted: 28 April 1916, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 27th Infantry Battalion
Born: Baroota, South Australia, 3 November 1881
Home Town: Streaky Bay, Streaky Bay, South Australia
Schooling: Franklin Harbour State School, South Australia
Occupation: Farmer
Died: Wounds, 45th Casualty Clearing Station stationed at Dernancourt, France, 2 March 1917, aged 35 years
Cemetery: Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension
Plot VI, Row B, Grave No. I
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Streaky Bay War Memorial
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World War 1 Service

28 Apr 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, 5437, Adelaide, South Australia
12 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 5437, 27th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '15' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Ballarat embarkation_ship_number: A70 public_note: ''
12 Aug 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, 5437, 27th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ballarat, Adelaide
2 Mar 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 5437, 27th Infantry Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages

Help us honour Percy Baker's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Lily Van Weenen

Percy Baker was born on the 3 of November 1881, in Port Germein, South Australia. Percy’s parents were Joseph Henry Baker and Caroline Newbold. He grew up in Baroota, South Australia, following the Church of England as his religion. He attended Franklin Harbour State School then graduated to become a farmer. Later married and had children. Percy Baker also had a brother. His name was Elva Cuthbert Baker, and he was in the military. He was in the 15th Infantry and his service number was 4741.

Percy Baker enlisted for the army in 1916 on the 28th of April in Adelaide South Australia, although he had no previous military experience prior to the war. He was admitted to the 27th Infantry Battalion, 14th Reinforcement. Percy's rank was private and his service number was 5437. Percy Baker and his battalion set sail on the 12th of August 1916 via the ship HMAT A70 Ballarat.

Percy Baker died in action on the 2nd March 1917 at aged 35. It was recorded that he died of wounds during the battle in Warlencout, France. Percy Baker was awarded the British War and Victory Medal post service. Percy Baker was buried at the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension. Information can also be found at the Adelaide National War Memorial (WW1), Australian War Memorial and Roll of Honour. His panel number at the Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial is 109.



Son of Joseph Henry BAKER and Caroline nee NEWBOLD

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Francois Berthout

Pte 5437 Percy Baker
27th Australian Infantry Battalion,
7th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division
More than a hundred years ago, on the fields of the Somme, the relentless fury of the guns was heard without respite which, day after day, under tons of shells, sent death and despair over the golden wheat to through which the blood of thousands of young men was shed in attacks as courageous as they were murderous and who, under leaden rains, were mowed down and fell side by side united in an eternal camaraderie in which they gathered to fight far from home, on the other side of the world for peace and freedom, for what was right and for us, for their comrades, for their country, they gave their youth and their today by standing admirable in bravery facing their fears under hurricanes of fire and steel in which they sacrificed their innocence but they fought the good fight never taking a single step back despite what they endured and did all they could to preserve our humanity when in the prime of their lives they were dragged into darkness and the despair of a war which at an unrelenting pace took the lives of their brothers, of their best friends who paid the supreme sacrifice and remained in the poppy-red fields of the Somme where today they stand side by side behind the rows of their countless white tombs which remind us here every day of the price of peace in which we live thanks to them and in which they did not have the chance to grow old but, silent and solemn they still live, not only behind their names forever engraved in stone but also in our thoughts and in our hearts where they will forever be remembered and over whom I will always watch with gratitude and love, as a faithful guardian of their memory that I will bring to life so that the faces, lives and stories of these young men, of my boys of the Somme live forever.

Today, it is with the utmost respect and with the deepest gratitude that I would like to honor the memory of one of these men, of one of my boys of the Somme who came from Australia to fight in France and who gave his today for our tomorrow. I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Private number 5437 Percy Baker who fought in the 27th Australian Infantry Battalion, 7th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division, and who died of his wounds 106 years ago, on March 2, 1917 at the age of 35 on the Somme front.

Percy Baker was born on November 3, 1881 in Port Germein, near Baroota, South Australia, and was the son of Joseph Henry Baker and Caroline Baker (née Newbold) and had a brother, Elver Cuthbert Baker. He was educated at the Franklin Harbour State School then after graduation, worked as a farmer. Later, in May 1908, he married Elizabeth Ann Baker (née Redding) and had six children including three daughters, Elizabeth Sarah Ann Baker, Ruby May Baker, Norah Caroline Baker, and three sons, Jack Baker,William Henry Baker,Percival Edmond Baker,and lived together in Streaky Bay,West Coast,South Australia.

Percy enlisted on April 28, 1916 in Adelaide, South Australia, in the 27th Australian Infantry Battalion, 14th Reinforcement, which was raised in March 1915 and was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Walter Dollman (who had formerly served in the forerunner volunteer militia unit, the 74th Infantry).
The 27th Australian Infantry Battalion was known as "Unley's Own", as many of the men who first enlisted in the first world war were from the district. Lieutenant Colonel Dollman had served as Mayor of Unley, and it was down Unley Road that the troops marched to be greeted and celebrated at the Town Hall prior to their embarkation.

After a training period of just over three months at Mitcham Camp, south of Adelaide, Percy embarked with his unit from Adelaide, on board HMAT A70 Ballarat on August 12, 1916 and sailed for England.
On September 30, 1916, Percy arrived in England and was disembarked at Plymouth then marched to Rollestone where he joined the 7th Training Battalion at Rollestone Camp on Salisbury Plain and completed his training here under realistic war conditions. Two months later, ready to join the battlefields of the great war, he proceeded overseas for France from Folkestone on November 16.

On November 17, 1916, after a last moment of calm on the peaceful waters of the English Channel, Percy arrived in France and was disembarked at Etaples where he joined the 2nd Australian Divisional Base Depot and less than two weeks later, on November 29, he fell ill and was admitted to isolation at the 24th General Hospital suffering from mumps then, was transferred to the 14th Stationary Hospital in Boulogne on December 7th then sent (still in Boulogne) to No 1 Convalescent Depot on December 19th and the following day, was declared fit for service.

On December 25, 1916, Percy moved back to Etaples, to the 2nd Australian Divisional Base Depot, marched out to join unit on January 6, 1917 and taken on strength in the 27th Battalion on January 8 in the Somme, at Mametz Camp which they left on February 2 and after a long march, joined the front line at Flers where they relieved the men of the 13th Battalion of the Royal Scots and occupied the "Scotland Trench". Here they faced the coldest winter the Somme had ever known but also suffered very heavy and very intense bombardments from the German artillery then were relieved on February 6 by the 25th Australian Infantry Battalion and marched for the "Villa Camp", located a few kilometers from Flers where they remained until February 9 to reorganize and enjoy a few days off from the frontline trenches.

On February 9, 1917, Percy and the 27th Battalion left Villa Camp and moved to the Scots Redoubt North Camp near Warlencourt where they underwent a period of training including tactical exercises and then on February 14 joined the trenches standing in front of Butte De Warlencourt where they relieved the 22nd Australian Infantry Battalion. In this sector of the front line, the Australians were constantly observed by enemy airplanes which were able to guide very heavy artillery fire which caused heavy damage and very many casualties among the men of the 27th Battalion who were daily employed to repair and improve their trenches, their dugouts but also the lines of barbed wire which were often destroyed then on February 18, were relieved by the 25th Australian Infantry Battalion and marched for Sussex Camp, near Bazentin-Le-Petit.

On February 23, 1917, Percy and his comrades, after a very short period of rest, left Sussex Camp and marched for Fricourt Camp and on February 26, moved back to the trenches of Warlencourt where a day before, the Germans evacuated the " Galwitz Trench" which the men of the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion captured with almost no opposition.Following the capture of the Galwitz Trench, numerous patrols were sent to no man's land to report intelligence regarding another German line of defense known as the "Malt Trench" which the men of the 27th Battalion attempted to capture on 27 February but without success due to impenetrable barbed wire lines and strong points heavily defended by machine guns.

The extreme difficulty in attacking and taking the Malt Trench was described more accurately in the war diary of the 22nd Australian Infantry Battalion which also suffered, like the 27th, heavy losses:
"Many enemy could be seen in the vicinity of Malt Trench outside of Warlencourt and with resistance being encountered on the left of the 1st Anzac Corps front held by the 2nd Division, Gellibrand, in temporary command of the Division, decided on a determined advance and to take Malt Trench which was the enemy’s most important defence on this part of the front. The 18th Battalion of the 5th Brigade was met with fire from several machine guns and casualties were heavy. Snipers were active including against the stretcher-bearers and wounded. The 6th Brigade was quickly summoned to attack with little preparation and attacked with two companies each of the 21st and 22nd Battalions.

The two companies of the 22nd Battalion were led by Lieutenant Bazeley (C Company) and Captain Cull (D Company) who had earlier audaciously reconnoitred the position during the day, noting that the German wire had not been cut. He was informed however that there would be no artillery support to cut the wire and that the attack must proceed at all costs at once. Scouts were sent out to discover passages through the wire. As C and D Companies reached the top of the hill outside of Warlencourt some fifty yards from the entanglements, Germans in their trench opened fire with machine-guns and rifles. Cull ordered his men to lie in shell-holes and wait for reports from the scouts, but when no report came, he gave the order to charge. His impetus carried him over the first stake but he got entangled in the second where his hip was shattered by a bomb. Lieutenant Corne and Private Martin tried to extricate him, but Corne was hit and killed.

Twenty of the men found an opening in the entanglement and under the leadership of Serjeant Harwood entered an unoccupied portion of Malt Trench but were shortly afterwards driven out by machine gun fire. Captain Cull and several of his men were captured and made prisoner of war. At dawn in Little Wood a patrol from C Company was engaged and a stray bullet detonated a box of bombs being brought forward causing 16 casualties killed and wounded, including Lance Corporal Kruger, DCM. Several were also wounded by booby traps left by the enemy. In all 50% of the men engaged in the failed attack of the 25th/26th February became casualties, including nine men from the 22nd Battalion killed.

On February 28, 1917, a new assault was carried out by the men of the 27th Battalion to try to break through and take the Malt Trench but it was a new failure causing 23 casualties including three killed in action.

Unfortunately, two days later, on March 2, 1917, the men of the 27th Battalion, including Percy, again received the order to attack the Malt Trench and succeeded in advancing 130 yards through the enemy lines but the Germans attacked the flanks of the 27th Battalion which, at first in a critical position, launched a counter-attack courageously led by Captain Devonshire. At the end of the day, the Malt Trench was captured but the losses were heavy. 22 men were killed in action and 95 were wounded including Percy who was fatally hit by a shell. He was immediately evacuated and admitted to the 45th Casualty Clearing Station stationed at Dernancourt where he died later the same day, he was 35 years old.

Today, Percy Baker rests in peace alongside his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, and his grave bears the following inscription: "Peace perfect peace safe in the arms of Jesus".

After his death, Percy's obituary was published in the Adelaide Chronicle of April 7, 1917 as follows:
"The late Private Percy Baker: Information has been received in Streaky Bay by Mrs. Percy Baker that her husband, Private Baker, had been killed in action in France. Private Baker, who was born in 1883, was 35 years of age, and enlisted on April 4, 1916, leaving Australia four months later, on August 12. He was well-known on the West Coast, having resided here for 12 years, carrying on farming operations. In May 1908, he was married to Miss Elizabeth Redding, daughter of Mrs. and the late William Redding, of Streaky Bay, whom he leaves with a family of six children."

Percy Baker's brother, Elver Cuthbert Baker also fought bravely for his country. He had service number 4741, had the rank of Private and served in the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion. Sadly, Elver was killed in action on April 11, 1917 at the age of 22 and is now resting in peace at Queant Road Cemetery, Buissy.

Percy, Elver, brave and courageous, it is with exceptional loyalty that you answered together the call of duty for your country, to preserve what defines us, our humanity, to do your bit on the battlefields on which with bravery and determination, with coolness and honor you fought alongside your comrades in the name of peace and freedom among the poppies on which was shed the blood of a whole generation of young men who, proud and full of hope, marched with enthusiasm and the ardor of their youth behind the bugles which led them towards the battlefields, towards a future filled with doubts under the dark clouds torn by the flashes of millions of shells which fell in infernal roars bringing with them death and despair on fields once golden with wheat which became gray quagmires and consumed by the flames of a world at war which, mercilessly, dragged so many young boys into the darkness and the madness of the trenches in which they lived praying to God to spare them and bring them out of this hell and which, in the howls and the fury of the battles, swept away the innocence of these boys who became men, veterans who, in a few days, were profoundly changed, marked forever by what they endured, haunted by the horrors they saw and which they faced with exceptional courage united in a bond of camaraderie that nothing broke despite death , despite the tears, despite the pain they stood strong and watched over each other, found in each other the light of a humanity that was pulverized in the fields of mud, crushed between the jaws of barbed lines in which fell so many young souls that, in this outburst of brutality, were mowed down under the crossfire of machine guns in front of which, despite an almost certain death, they charged bayonets forward. So young, they came out of the trenches behind their officers, their hearts beating to the rhythm of frantic drums and advanced knowing that they might not come back from this new assault but they did not retreat, all together they showed determination and courage of all the young Australian nation that was behind them and whose colors they carried with honor on the fields of northern France.Without regard for their own lives, they fought to save their comrades from this hell on earth, they fought together for this war to end all wars, because they knew it was the right thing to do and in blood,among the rats, heads held high under their slouch hats,again and again,fighting bullets,poison gas,artillery,they charged across the fields of the Somme guided by the ANZAC spirit, a spirit of mateship, courage, loyalty, unity in the face of danger and adversity, a spirit of collective effort, a spirit that was born on the beaches of Gallipoli and for which the young Diggers fought like lions that nothing could stop and in those dark hours, gave all they had to make peace prevail and for which so many of them paid the supreme sacrifice and remained where they fell, in the fields of the Somme which, today silent, keep the traces, the deep scars of what these young men lived and endured, always united in eternal camaraderie, watch over each other between the rows of their white graves and over whom I will always watch with the highest respect to keep their memory alive, so that the lives and sacrifices of these heroes will never be forgotten, so that their names, just like the ANZAC spirit and the friendship which unites Australia and France can live forever. Thank you so much Percy, Elver, for all you have done for us and for my country which will be forever grateful to you.At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.