--December 5, 2016.
George Harold (Harry) Baker, born in Sweetsburg (Cowansville) in the Eastern Townships in 1877, and killed at the battle of Mont Sorrel, Belgium, in 1916, was the only Canadian Member of Parliament to have ever been killed in war. Patrimoine Bolton Heritage has recently produced an excellently researched and well written booklet of Baker’s life, by Serge Wagner. Although only 32 pages, this booklet is visually very interesting – showing everything from the bleak photos of the World War I trenches and devastated fields to many period family and military illustrations of privileged upper class life, now altogether vanished.
Harry Baker came from a well-off Loyalist family, that had been prominent in the Townships for generations. His father, and some other male relatives, had been members of both the Quebec and the Canadian Parliaments, and active in the legal field. Harry followed his family tradition – attended Bishop’s College School and then McGill, and, in 1911, was elected as the Conservative Party MP for Brome.
Baker had always been active with the local militia, so when war broke out in 1914, he started his military career with the regular forces. In 1915, he raised the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles (5th CMR) and was ultimately sent to France, and then the front in Belgium. Harry had recruited about half of this unit (about 600 men) from the Townships. It was to be a cavalry battalion – horses had always been his passion. From the outset, this was a hopelessly out of date military endeavour, even perceived as such at the time, and this group ended up as infantry in the horrible trenches of Flanders. However, Harry did take his own horse, Morning Glory, who made it through the war unscathed, and who died back in the Townships at an advanced horse age in 1936.
Harry was not so lucky. He was killed in action at the disastrous battle of Mont Sorrel in 1916. He was still a Member of Parliament at the time. As Mont Sorrel was definitely not one of Canada’s (or the other allies') finer battles (awful loss of life and a brigadier general taken prison by the Germans), Harry’s efforts were conveniently forgotten and downplayed back home. His name was not included on the local war memorial, and an obscure statue in Ottawa was his only tribute. Until 1966, when the last of them died, men who had served in Baker's unit still came to Ottawa and celebrated quiet memorials at this location.
For the whole story, and a glimpse of a vanished Townships world, read this 31-page booklet. A Genuine But Unrecognized Hero -- George Harold (Harry) Baker 1877-1916, by Serge Wagner, is available, in English or French, from Patrimoine Bolton Heritage, 19 Cameron, Bolton Est, Qc, J0E 1G0 or www.boltonheritage.org.