Clifford T. Baker LZ/1231

Grateful thanks to Nigel Baker for the information relating to his Great Uncle.
Royal Naval Division .info Clifford Tiver BAKER LZ/1231
Clifford Tiver Baker

Born and brought up in Bristol, Clifford Baker held a commission for six years in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) before the First World War. The dates of his service are not known, but he is recorded as having been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 25 November 1907. Family sources record that he resigned his commission before the war, becoming a pacifist and conscientious objector.

On or after the outbreak of war, Clifford volunteered for service and joined the Royal Naval Division's Public Schools Battalion: he is recorded as being on the Battalion's nominal roll on 16 Jan 1915. This Battalion was subsequently transferred into the Hawke Battalion (in its second incarnation following the Division's misfortunes in Antwerp in 1914), forming one of its four rifle companies (D Company).

Clifford is recorded as being with the Hawke Battalion at Blandford on 3 May 1915 before deploying overseas to Gallipoli. His subsequent service was as a stretcher-bearer rather than as a fighting soldier.

The Hawke Battalion did not take part in the Gallipoli landings, arriving instead at the end of May. Clifford must have spent around six months onshore. The Battalion was involved in the third battle of Krithia in June 1915. He was evacuated to Egypt in late 1915 suffering from frostbite (and/or possibly trench foot: unclear from the service record), being admitted to hospital in Alexandria on 1 December. The withdrawal from Gallipoli was completed in early January 1916, a few days after his transfer to a convalescent depot in Luxor. There were some 16,000 frostbite and exposure casualties during the Gallipoli campaign so he was far from alone. He re-joined the Hawke in late February on the island of Imbros where they remained until May.

At this point, following some uncertainty over its future, the Division was transferred from Naval to Army control and was shipped to France to serve on the Western Front. The Hawke Battalion travelled by Cunard liner RMS Franconia, disembarked at Marseille on 23 May and moved north.

Initially the Battalion was sent to the Souchez area, north of Arras, and alternated between the trenches, training, working parties and rest. Apart from occasionally heavy shelling, this was not an area of intense fighting at the time. In October, the Battalion was withdrawn from this sector and moved south to the area of the Somme, once again taking its place in the trenches.

The following month, the Division, including the Hawke Battalion, undertook its first major engagement in France, fighting in the Battle of the Ancre, the final stage of the Battle of the Somme which had started on 1 July. In an attack on German positions around Beaucourt-sur-Ancre, in the early hours of 13 November, the Hawke was almost destroyed. The battalion war diary reports that "the Hawke Battalion after the first few minutes of the attack no longer existed as a unit. It transpired later that we attacked immediately in front of a very strong German redoubt. The Battalion suffered grievous losses".

During the Beaucourt attack, the Battalion had become so fragmented that a number of its soldiers joined up with the adjacent Hood Battalion, commanded by Lt-Col Bernard Freyberg (later to become a famous WW2 commander and ultimately Governor-General of New Zealand). Freyberg was awarded the VC for his role in the battle and the capture of Beaucourt.

The diary goes on to report the Hawke's losses (dead, wounded and missing) from the attack as 25 officers and 396 other ranks, from a total before the attack of less than 500 (the Battalion being already under-strength at the time). There were only two officers and around 30 other ranks remaining at the end of Hawke's tragically brief part in the fighting.

That afternoon, the Second-in-Command, accompanied by the Assistant Adjutant, came forward to assume command of the Battalion (the Commanding Officer and Adjutant being among the casualties): "beyond very scattered parties, they could however find no trace of the Battalion". The remnants of the Hawke were withdrawn shortly afterwards. The troops in the German redoubt, a strong and well-fortified position, were reported to have surrendered to two British tanks the following morning.

Three days after the battle the Hawke Battalion "held a Thanksgiving Service for those who had survived the attack and a short memorial Service for those who had died. Very pathetic little Battalion. I think that everyone was deeply moved."

Clifford's service record shows that he departed on home leave on 24 November, shortly after the battle, and returned to France on 10 December. In the lack of any indication to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume that he was involved in recovering the wounded from the catastrophic Beaucourt attack.

Three months after Beaucourt, Clifford was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for his part in an operation carried out a short distance to the east. The Battalion had been out of the line for much of the interim period for reinforcement and training. The aim of the operation, conducted between 3 and 5 February 1917, was to capture and occupy German positions known as the Puisieux and River trenches.

His award was announced in the London Gazette on 26 March 1917. There is no evidence of a citation: these were rarely written in WW1 for the MM, of which over 100,000 were awarded. Nothing is therefore known of how his medal was earned, but it is likely to have involved evacuating casualties under enemy fire.
Royal Naval Division .info Clifford Tiver BAKER LZ/1231 London Gazette

60 members of the battalion were killed in the engagement, with another 91 wounded and 33 recorded as missing. The Commanding Officer of the Hawke reported to Brigade HQ that "all objectives were obtained and held...all officers and men carried out their instructions most accurately and the spirit of the men was most admirable". Clifford's award was one of 14 to members of the Battalion (2 DSOs, 4 MCs, 2 DCMs, and 6 MMs).
Royal Naval Division .info Clifford Tiver BAKER LZ/1231 Hawke Btn. Diary Royal Naval Division .info Clifford Tiver BAKER LZ/1231 Hawke Btn. Diary 2
Hawke Battalion diary

The record suggests that Clifford remained with the Hawke, and he is therefore likely to have taken part in the attack on German positions in Gavrelle in April 1917. One of Hawke's casualties in the battle was the Adjutant, Sub-Lt A.P. Herbert who was later to become famous as a writer, satirist and MP. Douglas Jerrold ("The Hawke Battalion") described Herbert as "the last of the original volunteers from Hawke battalion who had fought at Gallipoli". Presumably this is not quite true if Clifford was still with the Battalion, though the precise meaning in this context of "original volunteers" is unclear - and the book (in keeping with the spirit of the age) concentrates principally on the officers rather than the other ranks. Either way, it is likely that Clifford was at this point one of the few remaining of those who had left Blandford two years previously.

Clifford's active part in the war came to an end in September 1917, in circumstances that are not entirely clear. A family account reports that he was wounded while extracting a casualty to safety. Whilst the details are unclear, it is known that Clifford subsequently became a psychiatric casualty and never made a full recovery. He was discharged from service in 1918 and died in Sussex fifty years later. His MM and war medals remain in family hands. Clifford's story is one of service and sacrifice: his name appears on no war memorial or roll of honour, but his courage and sense of duty led him to pay a tragic price. He is remembered with pride by his family.
Royal Naval Division .info Clifford Tiver BAKER LZ/1231 Medals
Royal Naval Division .info Clifford Tiver Baker
return to Detailed Personnel