Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Borden, D.S.O.
85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) Battalion
Oh, wha is foremaist and a’ and a’,
Oh, wha does follow the blaw, the blaw,
Colonel Borden, the king o’ us a’ hurra’,
Wi’ his hundred Pipers and a’ and a’,
His bonnet and feather he’s wavin’ high,
His prancing steed maist seems to fly.
He’ll lead us to Berlin across the Rhine,
Wi’ his 85th Highlanders bonny and fine.
(Songs of the 85th Battalion, 1917, 16)
In September 1915, Allison Hart Borden raised the 85th Nova Scotia Highlanders, nicknamed with the Gaelic motto Siol na Fear Fearail (The Breed of Manly Men). Encouraged by rapid recruitment in the province, Borden proposed a four battalion Highlander Brigade from the Maritimes. The battalions (the 85th, 185th, 193rd, 219th) departed Canada in October 1916. After arriving in England, the Brigade was broken up to the dismay and confusion of many citizens and politicians in the province.
Born in Guysboro, Nova Scotia on 31 March 1878, Borden was a senior officer with the Royal Canadian Regiment. He had joined the 68th Militia Regiment in 1902 before gaining an appointment as captain in the R.C.R. in 1907. Borden, who had preceded the Brigade overseas by a month, joined the R.C.R. in France to gain necessary battlefield experience in November 1916. Recovering from a wound taken in the field, he rejoined his Highlanders in England. After the dissolution of the Highlander Brigade, only the 85th Battalion remained.
Confused by the developments in England, Edward Mortimer Macdonald, Liberal MP for Pictou complained, “…brothers were separated; chums from boyhood were torn apart… Is it any wonder that recruiting does not go on under such methods?” The 85th deployed to France under Borden’s command in February 1917 as part of the 12th Infantry Brigade in the 4th Canadian Division.
Despite sharing the same name as the prime minister, Colonel Borden was a Liberal in politics. Sir Robert Borden however did act as the battalion’s honourary colonel and visited the troops during his tour of the front. The 85th first saw action at Hill 145 during the battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Borden went on sick leave during summer 1917, relinquishing command to Major James Layton Ralston, a Nova Scotia MPP and future Minister of Defence during the Second World War. Borden rejoined the 85th in September but remained troubled by ill health and pain.
Gas exposure at Passchendaele in November 1918 only exasperated Borden’s physical weakness and heart trouble. He was admitted to hospital in late April and command of the 85th again passed to Ralston. Doctors found Borden “definitely overweight” and unfit for field service. Diagnosed with D.A.H., he suffered attacks of abdominal pain and vomiting until his return to Halifax in December 1918.
The 1920 battalion history commended its former commander as an excellent recruiter, thorough organizer, and inspiring leader:
To put it in a word Colonel Borden was and is the “Father” of the 85th Battalion and of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, and it is due not only to a gallant and resourceful soldier and gentleman, but it is due to posterity that there be no doubt as to who was responsible for these splendid units.
After the war, Borden became Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Regiment He died on 19 July 1932.
Digitized Service File (LAC):