Leonard Keith BAKER


BAKER, Leonard Keith

Service Number: NX19147
Enlisted: 31 May 1940, Paddington, New South Wales
Last Rank: Gunner
Last Unit: 2nd/15th Field Regiment
Born: Mordialloc, Victoria, 2 November 1911
Home Town: Sydney, City of Sydney, New South Wales
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Cannister maker
Died: Died of Illness (POW of Japan - leg amputation), Burma, 25 August 1943, aged 31 years
Cemetery: Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery
A7 D 11
Tree Plaque: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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World War 2 Service

31 May 1940: Enlisted 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX19147, Paddington, New South Wales
15 Feb 1942: Imprisoned Malaya/Singapore
25 Aug 1943: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Gunner, SN NX19147, 2nd/15th Field Regiment, Prisoners of War

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Biography contributed by Edmund Harrison

Leonard Keith Baker was born on the 2nd of November 1911, at Mordialloc, Victoria. His family moved to New South Wales and were living in the suburb of St Peter's when on the 25th July 1936 he married Alice Rose Morley at St Barnabas Church Sydney. His occupation was 'Cannister Maker'.

During 1939, as the clouds of war were gathering and with Hitler's invasion of Poland, Britain and France declare war on Germany on the 1st September 1939.
On the 3rd of September, the Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies also declared war on Germany in support of the 'Mother Country', Britain.
Through 1940, Baker would have sensed the worsening of the war with Italy poised to join the conflict on the side of Germany. So on the 31st of May 1940 he enlisted, and was taken on strength with the 2nd/1st Medium Artillery Regiment stationed at Ingleburn, NSW.

On the 24th November 1940 he was transferred to the fledgling 2/15 Field Regiment at Warwick Farm, and in January 1941, he was detached to Signal School and underwent a signals training course. After qualifying, he was posted to A Troop Signals, 29th Battery, 2/15 Field Regiment under command of Major John Workman.
On the 29th July 1941, the unit was 'trained' to Darling Harbour where they embarked aboard TSS Katoomba.

The Katoomba sailed to Perth W.A. Where the ship was loaded with more stores and members of the 2/15th were transferred to the Dutch ship ”Sibajak.” On August 8th, the Sibajak moved out past the long breakwater of Fremantle Harbour and made up into a convoy with with two other Dutch ships and a RAN escort. The 15th August saw the ship come into the straits of Singapore where they disembarked and were 'trucked' to their camp at Nee Soon. November 23 saw the unit take possession of 24 British-made 25 pounder gun-howitzers on which they immediately commenced training.

With the sense of imminent war with Japan looming, The 2/15th trained harder than ever and on the 29th November, the first two code words were received - “Awake” and “Armour,” putting the unit into preparing 'readiness' to go to war stations. December 1 came the code word “Seaview” which put the unit on readiness and the decision to move Baker's A Tp, 29th Bty to defend Klaung Aerodrome, at Jahore, Malaya. December 7 1941, saw the Japanese bomb American naval forces at Pearl Harbour and just after midnight, 8th December (local time) the Japanese 5th Division landed at Pattani on Thailand's east coast and their 18th Division land at Kota Bharu, Malaya's northeast coast. The defending force was the 8th Indian Brigade. 

The 9th January 1942, the 2/15th received the order “we leave at dawn for the north.” Baker's 29th Bty came under command of 2/26 Bn (Lt. Col Boyes)
Throughout January they had a heavy workload, taking part in significant actions at Gemas, Muar and around Ayer Hitam and the Namazie Estate, firing thousands of rounds as they conducted rearguard actions over a distance of 150 miles (240 km), as the Allied forces were pushed south towards Johore and then across the Causeway to Singapore island. During this time Baker's 29th Bty had been carrying out Harassing fire tasks constantly. The 2/15th was heavily engaged, attacking Japanese barges and assaulting troops, but as the defenders were stretched thinly, their lines were soon penetrated and they were forced to withdraw to prevent encirclement. During the withdrawal, a large number of guns were lost after the 30th Battery's transport became bogged. Over the course of a week, they were pushed back to Singapore city, and by 15 February, the garrison commander, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival gave the order for Allied forces to surrender.

The 2/15, was ordered to march the 25 kilometres to their new compound, Birdwood Camp, a short distance from the gaol and Serlarang Barracks. In May 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army ordered a select force of 3,000 men for an 'overseas party' – destination not stated. This party of men were to be known as 'A' Force. NX19147 Gunner Leonard Keith Baker was to be a member of that force. Three thousand prisoners were forced to board two small cargo ships, the Toyohasi Maru and the Celebes Maru. The majority of the men were forced down into the holds with no light and very little air. The convoy sailed along the coast of Burma (Myanmar) and after eight days the convoy stopped at Mergui, disembarked then forced to march to Tavoy to work on the British aerodrome. The days dragged by and by the end of September the work on the aerodrome was finished. “A” Force was then ordered to march to Tavoy wharf and were then loaded aboard barges and a tramp steamer and after 28 hours sailing arrived at Moulein. The next morning they travelled by train to Thanbyuzayat. 

October saw the group march to Hlepauk, the first camp along the planned railway route. Other Australian, British and Dutch POWs were positioned along the railway route in camps. The men traded the little possessions they had with the Burmese, Japanese and Korean guards for food, until they ran out of their treasures. With Christmas approaching, Baker prepared to spend his first Christmas as a POW. Christmas Day 1942 was celebrated, an Aussie band played and Christmas carols sung. On the 3rd of January 1943, Baker's party moved from Hlepauk to their next camp at Tan Yin (35 Kilo Camp). The Japanese forced the men to work from dawn to 1900 hours daily, with only a few breaks. The Japanese also began increasing the daily quota of men required to work forcing the sick to make up the numbers. Rationing was getting worse with the men receiving only, on average, 50 grams of meat and some watery rice a day.

On the 8th March Baker's party set off north with other groups of POWs and arrived at their next camp at Kun knit kway. At this camp the rations were maggot-infested and flies and filth everywhere. The work on the line continued. By July 1943 the section of the line had been laid and the men was ordered to their next camp at Mizale (70 Kilo camp) which was the foulest camp they had experienced to date. Captain Rowley Richards, “A” Force's RMO, (Regimental Medical Officer) described in his book, A Doctor's War the condition of the men in the camp:

“Even if the majority of our men escaped Cholera, how, questioned,could they survive the 'killer cycle' of malaria, dysentery and beriberi on top of starvation, hard labour and acts of brutality, all the while watching comrades die around them?”

With this section of the line finished, Baker and his party were ordered to their next camp at Apparon (80 Kilo camp.) On the 25h August 1943, starved, emaciated and suffering from septicaemia, NX19147 Gunner Leonard Keith Baker died in this God-forsaken camp. He probably had only a mate who tended to him until the end ― one of the thousands of Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War Two. 

Gunner Baker is buried In the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, Myanmar (Burma).

Today, his grand-nephew, a Vietnam Veteran of the 5th Battalion RAR, proudly wears his uncle's campaign medals on his right breast every Anzac Day to pay tribute and in remembrance of an uncle he never knew.