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01 September 2010

Private Gilbert Ernest Baker of Blackwood

Bert Baker was a son of James and Louisa Baker, and was born in Blackwood in September 1891. He attended Coromandel Valley Public School and worked as a labourer before the war. The September 1914 issue of the Blackwood Magazine mentions that Bert was one of twelve local men who had enlisted soon after war was declared.

He enlisted on 8 September 1914 at the age of 22, and was an original member of A or 'Ack' Squadron, 3rd Light Horse Regiment when it formed at Morphettville. The 3rd Light Horse Regiment consisted of a headquarters and two squadrons raised in South Australia and a third squadron raised in Tasmania. The South Australian part of the regiment embarked on the 'Port Lincoln' on 20 October and disembarked in Alexandria, Egypt on 9 December 1914. After a period in camp at Maadi then Heliopolis, the regiment was volunteered to serve on Gallipoli as dismounted infantry, and landed at ANZAC Cove on 12 May 1915.

After digging in along Shrapnel Valley, the regiment was committed to defend Pope's Hill during the Turkish counterattack of 18/19 May 1915. It rotated on and off Pope's Hill until the end of July when it received a large number of reinforcements. During the period from their arrival until the end of July, the regiment had lost 29 killed and many wounded. From his first day on Gallipoli, Bert did valuable work as a sniper.

In early August, the regiment was redeployed to new positions to support the offensive which included the charge at the Nek on 7 August 1915, during which over 300 lighthorsemen from the 8th and 10th Light Horse Regiments were slaughtered. Between 9 and 22 August 1915, Ack Squadron of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment defended Quinn's Post. Throughout that period, Bert Baker did consistently good work in sniping and bomb (grenade) throwing, but on 22 August a new kind of bomb blew up in his hand as he was experimenting with it, and it blew his right hand off. He was evacuated to Mudros, on the island of Lemnos, then on to England, arriving in hospital in London on 9 September 1915, a year and a day after he enlisted. On 7 December 1915, the commanding officer of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment recommended Bert for the award of the French Medaille Militaire for his consistently good work as both a sniper and bomb thrower at Quinn's Post, but the recommendation did not result in an award. After treatment in London, Bert embarked for Australia in May 1916, and was discharged in Adelaide on 24 August 1916.

After the war Bert married Elizabeth and had a family. His grandson Jon remembers being picked up by his braces by Bert, using the prosthetic hook he wore in place of his right hand. He also remembers marvelling at how Bert rolled a cigarette one-handed.

Bert Baker died on 11 October 1957 at the age of 65 and was buried in Derrick Gardens, Centennial Park. His name is inscribed on the Blackwood Memorial.

Photograph: Courtesy of Jon Chittleborough

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