|Three kilometres east of the town of Ypres in Belgium, behind a low brick wall and amongst a manicured lawn and immaculately tended rose gardens, lie the memorials to over 800 fallen soldiers from the Great War.
The Birr Cross Roads Cemetery is one of nearly one thousand cemeteries and memorials in northern France and Belgium that commemorate the dead and missing who served there from the countries of the British Commonwealth from the First World War.
Of those buried within this cemetery, 333 have never been unidentified and there are special memorials to nine casualties who are known or believed to be buried within this cemetery but the exact location of their graves is unknown. One of these is former Jeparit resident Raymond Baldock.
Above - Raymond Baldock’s memorial (sixth from the left) is in a prominent position along the front wall of the Birr Cross Roads Cemetery.
Raymond Baldock was living and working as a farmer at Jeparit when the First World War began, and he was the first from the district to enlist when he travelled to Dimboola on the 19 August to sign up, just two weeks after War was declared.
Having attended the Jeparit Primary School he was also well known on the sporting fields of Jeparit, and his parents Alfred and Louisa Baldock lived in the town.
Given the regimental number of 520, Baldock was allocated to E Company of the 8th Battalion, which was made up of volunteers mostly from the Ballarat and Wimmera districts.
Two months after he enlisted, the 8th Battalion embarked on the troopship A24 Benalla at Port Melbourne and one month later arrived in Egypt where the 30,000 Australian and New Zealand troops moved to training camps near Cairo to continue their training in preparation for joining the fight in the front lines in France and Belgium.
The routine of two months of training was interrupted in early February 1915 when, in the wake of an attack on the Suez Canal by Turkish forces, two Battalions including the 8th were briefly deployed to Suez. To the disappointment of the eager soldiers, the Indian forces already guarding the area had repulsed the attack and the Australians did not experience any direct contact with the Turks.
The troops would see action soon enough, as the 8th Battalion landed at Gallipoli in the second wave of Australian and New Zealand troops at around dawn on the morning of 25 April and immediately joined the fighting.
In early May they were briefly transferred to the southern end of the Gallipoli Peninsula where they saw action during the Battle of Krithia before returning to action in the area around Anzac Cove.
The Battalion played a support role in the Battle of Lone Pine as part of the August Offensive which was intended to break the deadlock that had developed on the peninsula.
Baldock received shrapnel would to his hands, chest and abdomen on 19 August and was admitted to the Australian Casualty Clearing Station before being transferred by hospital ship to the Egyptian Government Hospital in Port Said in Egypt.
He did not return to Gallipoli as he was in and out of hospitals in Egypt for the rest of the year with his shrapnel wounds, along with dysentery and dengue fever.
He was finally discharged to service at the start of January 1916 but remained in Egypt until the end of July when he embarked at Alexandria for England.
He was taken on strength to the 2nd Training Battalion at Perham Downs in Southern England, and by the end of the year had qualified as an instructor at the 26th course of Instruction, held at Southern Command Bombing School at Lyndhurst.
In January 1917 Baldock was promoted to the rank of Corporal and later temporary Sergeant.
On 20 August he embarked from Southampton bound for France to return to the War and he reverted to his permanent rank of Corporal.
He disembarked at Havre in France the following day and by the end of August, for the first time in two years, had re-joined the 8th Infantry Battalion in the field, just in time to take part in the what would be known the Battle of Menin Road which commenced on 20 September, which was part of the Third Battle of Ypres.
Late in the evening of 19 the 8th Battalion was one of many that were preparing for a push against the Germans just to the east of Ypres, and once the offensive began in the early hours of the next day the Australian soldiers engaged in some fierce fighting.
Amongst the confusion on the battlefield, Baldock was reported as missing in action later that day, having last been seen south west of Black Watch Corner west of Polygon Wood, but it was not until 29 December that he was confirmed as Killed in Action.
A witness reported that Baldock had been injured in the jaw and taken to a dressing station which was reported ‘blown up’ soon afterwards, killing a number of occupants. The witness confirmed that Baldock was ‘a great favourite with all’ and was sure that Baldock was one of those killed.
Baldock’s body was buried within the Burr Cross Roads Cemetery but as the exact spot is now unknown, a special cross was erected for him within the cemetery in 1922.
His memorial now holds a prominent place beside the front wall of the cemetery, in a row with the eight others noted as known or believed to be buried in this cemetery.
The Inscription on Baldock’s memorial reads “FATHER IN THY GRACIOUS KEEPING LEAVE WE NOW OUR LOVED ONE SLEEPING”
Portrait of Raymond Baldock (top) courtesy of Victorian Collections website