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May 6, 2024

The Saddest Selfie: A Mirror Self-Portrait Taken by Gunner Thomas Baker in 1917

It’s a striking image of a fresh-faced young man taking a picture of himself in front of a dresser mirror in 1917. A self portrait of Gunner Thomas Charles Richmond Baker, 16th Battery, 6th Field Artillery Brigade (later No 4 Squadron AFC). Taken using the reflection in a dresser mirror, the Kodak camera is clearly seen beside Baker. Items on the dresser include a basket, an empty wine bottle and glass and a pile of papers.

Less than a year later, 21-year-old Captain “Rich” Baker was dead, one of the last Australians to be killed in action during the First World War.

A highly decorated flying ace of “exceptional determination and courage,” Baker was shot down over Belgium on November 4, 1918, the 10th anniversary of his father’s death, and just a week before the end of the war.

Today, his name is listed on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial.

Thomas Baker as a cadet pilot, ca. 1917.

Thomas Charles Richmond Baker was born in Smithfield, South Australia, 2 May 1897. He was the eldest son of Richmond Baker, a schoolmaster and farmer, and his wife Annie Martha (née Gardner).

Baker joined the 11th Royal Australian Engineers of the Citizens Military Force on July 29, 1915 and began the war as a reinforcement gunner to the 6th Field Artillery Brigade.

At the age of 19, Baker arrived in France on July 1, 1916 and took part in the Somme offensive. He won the Military Medal near Gueudecourt on December 11, 1916 for repairing a telephone line in thirty separate places under intense enemy fire.

Nieuport, Belgium, ca. 1916: Gunners Thomas Charles Richmond Baker and Harrington of the 16th Battery, Field Artillery, AIF, relaxing in a dugout.

In September 1917, Baker joined the Australian Flying Corps and applied to become an air mechanic. He was instead selected to become a pilot and was posted for flight training. He was promoted to temporary captain and made a flight commander in No. 4 Squadron on October 24.

On November 4, 1918, the whole of No. 80 Wing RAF – of which No. 4 Squadron was part – took to the sky in an effort to “harass the German retreat on the Leuze-Ath road” and to bomb the aerodrome to the east of Leuze.

Thomas Baker led a formation of Sopwith Snipes that had been chosen as a bomber escort when the initial raid was carried out. The battle raged for two or three minutes before dying out. As the Snipes re-grouped, they discovered that two pilots were missing. Baker and fellow ace Lieutenant Arthur Palliser were initially recorded as missing, but were later found to have fallen victim to German ace, Karl “Rittmeister” Bolle.

Captain Thomas Charles Richmond Baker in the cockpit of a Sopwith Camel.

The 21-year-old was credited with 12 victories, including seven aircraft and one balloon destroyed with an additional four planes driven down out of control. He was No. 4 Squadron’s fourth highest scoring ace and on February 8, 1919, the London Gazette carried the posthumous announcement of the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Thomas Baker.


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