Wednesday, February 15, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Profile of a Hero: Lt.-Col. George Harold Baker

     We've been a bit WWII-heavy the past few weeks, so I thought it might be nice to add in a bit of First World War heroism this week! Lt.-Col. George Harold Baker was Canada's only Member of Parliament to have been killed in the First World War, over a hundred years ago.

     Baker was born in 1877 in the town of Sweetsburg in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. His family were United Empire Loyalists and were prominent in the area's political sphere. At the time of his birth, his father, The Hon. George Barnard Baker, had already served in the Quebec National Assembly and been elected three times as the Member of Parliament for Missisquoi, Quebec. George Sr. was later called to the Senate in 1896 and served as a Senator until his death in 1910.

     The younger Baker, whose friends called him 'Harry,' followed in his father's footsteps in pursuing a career in law, establishing a successful practice with his father first in Sweetsburg then in Montreal. In 1911 he was elected as a Conservative MP for Brome, Quebec. In addition to his interests in law and politics, Harry assumed an active role in various militia regiments in the region, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Scottish Light Dragoons in 1913.

Morning Glory
     At the time, Harry owned a horse called Morning Glory, which he kept at a farm in Brome and used for practicing charges and shooting from the saddle with his men when they were on maneuvers. When war broke out, Harry volunteered for active service and retained his seat in the House of Commons. Shortly afterwards, he was given the authority to raise the 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles, a unit comprised of volunteers from the Eastern Townships. When they left for England in 1915, and later that same year to France, Morning Glory was along for the ride. The pair were separated when Harry and his men were reclassified as infantry and sent to the trenches, but Morning Glory was able to escape the fate of so many horses used to drag heavy guns through the mud. She caught the eye of a battalion commander who took her for his personal mount, and Harry even got to see her from time to time. He even mentioned her in a letter home from Belgium in May 1916:
     "I saw Morning Glory day before yesterday; she is in the pink of condition. I hope some day to have her back."

     Sadly, this was the last time Harry ever saw Morning Glory. He was killed around 8:30 p.m. on 2 June, 1916 at Maple Copse in Sanctuary Wood during the Battle of Ypres. 

     At the time, he was planning a leave in London to meet his two sisters who were coming over to visit from Canada. He even had his hotel booked, which he mentioned in letters to the relatives of soldiers who had died under his command while offering to meet with them to offer his condolences. 

     In February 1924, a monument in tribute to Lt.-Col. Baker was unveiled in the Center Block of Parliament by Governor General Lord Byng. The Baker Memorial is dedicated to one man, but it personifies the nation's loss and the spirit of those who served. As for Morning Glory, she returned to Canada at the end of the war and you can read the rest of her story here:
You can also read more about the Baker Memorial here:

     References for this post come from The House of Commons Heritage Collection and CBC's "Morning Golry: Canada's Own WWI War Horse".
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

No comments: