On the 2nd November this year I received a short e-mail from the CWGC informing me that the ‘MM’ had finally been added to the headstone of Lance-Corporal George Frederick BAKER, 1st South African Regiment. Readers may remember that BAKER had been involved in the dramatic rescue of an officer under murderous fire and had been awarded the Military Medal for his bravery. He was one of three men who carried out the rescue, one of whom won the VC for his lead part in the incident. BAKER, who was twice wounded during this extraordinary act of heroism, was the only man out of the four not to survive the war.
Although this incident is deeply etched into the annals of South African military history and is brilliantly described by Ian Uys in his outstanding book: “Delville Wood”, a work never likely to be surpassed when it comes to that particular subject, it became obvious during my research that nobody with any knowledge of this famous episode had ever been to visit BAKER’s grave at Level Crossing Cemetery, Fampoux. If they had, they would surely have noticed the absence of the ‘MM’ on his headstone (it was also missing from the cemetery register back in 2010, which was when I first noticed the omission). Although the award had been widely documented and referred to on numerous occasions, nobody had picked up on the fact that it was missing from the headstone.
Anyhow, following my visit to the cemetery in February 2011, the CWGC very kindly acknowledged the omission and immediately corrected the entry in the cemetery register. After further discussion during the summer of 2015 the Commission wrote to tell me that it had decided to include BAKER’s headstone in the current programme of works scheduled to coincide with the centenary commemorations. Back in 2011, when I visited his grave as part of my research for the books, I decided that I would try to get the award added to his headstone in time for the centenary of his death, which will be the 12th April 2017.
I’m therefore extremely pleased to announce that this has now been achieved, albeit ninety-eight years after his body was recovered from the battlefield and laid to rest. As regards “Visiting the Fallen”, this is the one outcome that gives me the greatest sense of satisfaction. If you happen to be visiting the Arras battlefields, do consider popping over to Level Crossing Cemetery – George, I’m sure, would be happy to receive visitors.