George Harold Baker (1877-1916) an Ignored and Unrecognized Hero
Patrimoine Bolton Heritage
Few people know the name George Harold "Harry" Baker (1877-1916), even if a statue was erected in his honor in the Ottawa Parliament. A few years ago, the CBC devoted more time to Morning Glory, Colonel Baker’s horse! In fact, the last substantial paper written about Harry Baker dates back to 1917. Since then, the same basic narrative has essentially been repeated: a lawyer born in Sweetsburg (now Cowansville), Baker was elected M.P. for Brome (1911); he raised a regiment in the Eastern Townships, and was killed at the front in the Battle of Mount Sorrel (1916).
For two years, our Association has researched the Baker family. Among other reasons, the family long owned a seasonal residence in East Bolton. We have found out that several aspects of the political and military life of Harry Baker were omitted by the accounts of his family, and also by the Canadian Army and the Federal Government - particularly after the election of the Liberal government in 1921.
For several decades, in fact, the Eastern Townships were the scene of a merciless feud between Liberals and Conservatives, and then led respectively by two "honorables": Sydney Fisher and George Barnard Baker. The most famous episode of this clash was the Dundonald Affair, in 1904, when Lord Dundonald, was the British head of the Canadian Army. While Sydney Fisher was acting Minister of Militia and Defense, he blocked the appointment of Senator Baker's son-in-law to the Light Dragoons Regiment of Waterloo. In the House of Commons, Fisher declared that this regiment was infiltrated by the Conservatives, naming in particular, young Harry Baker. The Laurier Government required Dundonald’s recall in Britain; the decision caused major public debate in Canada and overseas. In 1911, however, the Baker family took its revenge when Harry beat Sydney Fisher to become Brome County's M.P.
In 1914, at the beginning of the War, M.P. Baker raised a regiment in the Eastern Townships. Col. Baker was killed at the front on June 2nd 1916. His family had a booklet published in the USA that was silent on the Fisher-Baker conflict. At that point, the Conservatives were in power and they decided to honor the M.P. with a monument. At the unveiling ceremony of Baker's statue in 1924, the Liberals were in power and Prime Minister King said almost nothing of Colonel Baker, insisting instead that a symbol was being honoured. Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy, who chaired the ceremony, kept silent. Yet it was he who led the Canadian Army in June 1916. It seems he did not want to mention that he ordered the disastrous counter-attack of June 3. The Canadian Army itself prefered being silent about the Battle of Mount Sorrel as well, because it was one of the culminating moments of the disorganization of the first years of the War. This two week battle resulted in over 8,000 casualties. In reality, it was Colonel Baker’s soldiers who kept alive his memory for more than fifty years. Periodically, a number of them commemorated his death, coming to the Parliament on June 2. Their last action took place June 2, 1966, when a delegation again visited the Parliament. In the House of Commons, the Speaker acknowledged their presence, but nothing else was said.
George Harold Baker was “a soldiers' officer." Though he was also certainly a traditional politician, he bravely paid with his life his commitment to the defense of the Empire and Liberty.
* The lecture of August 14 will present Harry Baker in context, with his contradictions. It will also mention how his memory was obliterated, and how he was publicly posthumously humiliated in the very County that had elected him.
Lt-col. Baker was the only Member of Parliament killed in action in the World War II