Har­riet Baker: The Life and Let­ters of an In­de­pen­dent and Cos­mopoli­tan Brome County Woman Dur­ing the early Twentieth Cen­tury

Stanstead Journal - - FORUM - Brome

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.

Har­riet Baker

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