Harriet Baker: The Life and Letters of an Independent and Cosmopolitan Brome County Woman During the early Twentieth Century
Harriet Baker is best known as the sister of Eastern Townships’ war hero and Member of Parliament for Brome County George Harold Baker, but this articulate and worldly woman, born into an influential and affluent Townships’ family, enjoyed a lifestyle that was beyond the reach of most women of her generation. Unfortunately, Harriet Baker also experienced her share of tragedy during her life. Her brother, Colonel Baker, who had represented the County in Parliament since the Federal election of 1911, responded to the outbreak of war by raising a regiment for combat on the Western Front. On June the third, nineteen sixteen, Harry Baker lost his life at the Battle of Mount Sorrel, while his sisters Harriet and Effie Baker were aboard a ship in the middle of the Atlantic in anticipation of meeting their brother in England upon their arrival. Colonel Baker’s death came as a great shock to Harriet and her pain did not abate with the passage of time. During the early stages of the World War Two, during one of her many lengthy stays in Paris, which typified her life during the interwar period, Harriet recalled the tragedy in a letter to her cousin, Kenneth Erskine. Harriet remarked that, “After Harry there was never anybody quite like him – underneath his qualities of leadership he was so simple and so tender. Forgive this outburst, I am more than ever overpowered by the realness of his loss to his immediate family. It was a cruel blow in more ways than one.”
Harriet’s presence in Europe in 1940 was not an aberration. Some observers of her life, during this period, have suggested that her decision to reside in France reflected her desire to be close to her brother’s final resting place. While there is some merit to this statement, an examination of her letters and her life indicate that she felt very much at home during her extended stays in Europe. She had studied in Germany for two years as a teenager, during the late 19th century, and her visits to the continent during the twenties, thirties and early forties were marked by lengthy sojourns in the South of France and in the Loire Valley with her close friend La Comtesse de Pierres, who inhabited a castle in that historic region. Her love of Paris also resonated in her letters sent back home and in spite of the danger posed by the arrival of War in 1939, her intentions were to remain in France until the end of the conflict. However, this plan had to be abandoned with the unanticipated German invasion and occupation of that country in June of 1940.