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Aro Keith Baker, 1892 - 1916

Keith Baker was killed in action on 9 July 1916 near Armentieres in France. He was aged 23. He is buried at Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentieres, France.

Keith was born in Auckland on 7 November 1892. His parents were Catherine Elizabeth and James Ebenezer Baker. The family moved to Christchurch when he was young and he attended Christchurch Boys' High School. He did well in school sports, particularly sprints, the high jump and gymnastics. He set a new school record of 4 feet 7 inches in the under-14 boys' high jump in 1906 and two years later broke the under-16 boys' 440 yards record. He played rugby and was a member of the school First Fifteen. He also excelled academically, preforming particularly well in the Education Board's senior scholarship examination in 1906. In March 1909 he was awarded the boys' Gammack Scholarship by the North Canterbury Education Board. The scholarships were worth £25 and were awarded annually to each of two holders of a Senior National Scholarship.

Baker went to Canterbury University College in 1911 to study law. He continued to play rugby and represented the Canterbury College club, playing in the forwards. He also belonged to the Canterbury Amateur Athletics Club. He obtained his LLB in February 1914 and was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court on the motion of H Edgar on 3 March 1914. Edgar was the senior partner of the firm for which Baker worked, Bates and Edgar.

Baker continued with an active involvement with rugby and was elected a member of the management committee of the Canterbury Rugby Union in March 1914. Following the outbreak of World War I he enlisted on 12 August 1914, being given the rank of Lance-Corporal in the Canterbury Infantry Battalion. He wrote to the Rugby Union on 19 August resigning from the management committee "on account of his being accepted for active service". The committee passed a unanimous resolution wishing him every success and a safe return, "the chairman remarking 'Good luck to him'," (Press, 19 August 1914). At an informal farewell by the management committee a few days later he was presented with a gold wrist watch inscribed "A.K. Baker, from C.R.F.U., 1914."

His army medical examination report shows he was 5 foot 11-1/2 tall (1.82 metres) and weighed 152 pounds (68.9 kg). Baker entered camp and embarked with the Main Body of the Canterbury Infantry Battalion from Lyttelton on 16 October 1914 for Suez in Egypt, arriving on 3 December. Corporal AK Baker was listed among a large number of Canterbury soldiers who held a special Christmas 1914 dinner at the Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo. A few months later New Zealand newspapers carried reports of "an interesting letter" from Mr AK Baker, a former member of the Canterbury Rugby Union management committee, which described how rugby was played in Egypt.

After outlining how teams were formed in January 1915 to play some rugby, Baker went on to state: "The Turks rather interfered with the aforesaid arrangements, and had the indecency to advance towards the Suez Canal before our game with the Wellington regiment could be played. Consequently we were shipped off to Ismailia to play the Real Game. But after 'the fun' (as it was always called) football came up again through a rather indirect cause. It all arose out of a great fast that occupied just over four weeks of the bare five that the brigade was at the front. With the despair of hungry men, the Third Platoon ... challenged the Fourth Platoon for its day's ration of jam. Great interest was shown in the match - principally, perhaps on account of the stakes - and a large crowd collected in the Domain. Ismailia possesses only one ground, and when we got there we were rather surprised to find hundreds of other people wanting to play. Three Soccer games were played before ours, and the crowd, being mostly New Zealanders, resented this rather strongly... 

"Considering that the teams had no combination, and that our training is little use for running - the football was excellent...

"The weather is too hot for football now - when we played the sun was unbearable - and the season can be said to have finished. We may being again next winter in Constantinople - Berlin - or will it be Christchurch? We would give something to know!" (Press, 21 April 1915). 

Not long after the rugby match Baker and the Expeditionary Force were landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Baker was wounded on 29 April and admitted to hospital in Cairo on 3 May. He was discharged on 28 August and rejoined his unit, returning to Gallipoli on 7 September.By September he had been pronounced fit and returned to the front. He was promoted to Sergeant on 25 September. He was admitted to hospital again in Cairo, from 5 to 11 February 1916 suffering from "defective vision".

Baker's unit, the 1st Canterbury Battalion, embarked for France on 6 April 1916, arriving at Marseilles on 12 April. It proceeded to Morbeque, staying there until 13 May when it marched to Armentieres, going into the front line on 21 May for eight days and then returning to the front line trenches on 3 July.

During April it had been announced that Baker was a nominee for a commission as Second Lieutenant. He did not receive that commission. On 9 July 1916 he was killed in action after a particularly heavy night-time German bombardment which concentrated on the centre of the 1st Canterbury Battalion's trenches. 

Baker's name is included among the Canterbury lawyers remembered on the memorial bronze plaque in the Canterbury Library of the New Zealand Law Society. 

Sources: Press, 19 October 1905, page 10; Press, 16 December 1905, page 10; Star, 12 October 1906, page 3; Star, 9 January 1907, page 3; Star, 9 October 1908, page 3; Star, 3 March 1909, page 3; Press, 14 July 1909, page 7; Press, 15 December 1910, page 8; Timaru Herald, 4 April 1911, page 5; Press, 6 May 1912, page 2; Press, 31 March 1913, page 5; Star, 25 February 1914, page 2; Sun, 3 March 1914, page 10; Press, 21 March 1914, page 15; Press, 17 August 1914, page 8; Press, 19 August 1914, page 12; Press, 22 August 1914, page 14; Press, 9 February 1915, page 2; Press, 21 April 1915, page 12; Sun, 9 September 1915, page 8; Auckland Star, 12 February 1916, page 9; Press, 15 April 1916, page 7; David Ferguson, The History of the Canterbury Regiment NZEF 1914-1919 (Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Auckland, 1921), page 87ff.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph soldier profile.

This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who lost their lives while serving in World War I.

Lawyers Roll of Honour. 

By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: geoff.adlam@lawsociety.org.nz

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Last updated on the 16th April 2015