The Party Hack

Lieutenant Colonel W. H. Muirhead
219th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) BattalionMuirhead

When the war broke out one of the very first to volunteer from the province of Nova Scotia, and to place his services unqualifiedly at the disposal of his King, was Major Muirhead.

For nine months Major Muirhead has been in the trenches, and for the last four months of that period he has been a member and in charge of a bombing party, which you know, Sir is the most dangerous branch of the service.

(F. B. McCurdy, Debates, 28 Jan 1916, 398)

In summer 1914, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court indicted William Harry Muirhead on eight counts of electoral fraud and perjury. Muirhead, a Conservative political operator, had allegedly secured a February 1914 provincial by-election in Victoria County through bribery and forgery. After the outbreak of the Great War, the embattled party bagman joined the Royal Canadian Dragoons, or as Liberal MP Daniel Duncan McKenzie intimated, “Major Muirhead fled the country on the pretext that he was going to war.”

Born in Chatham, New Brunswick on 27 July 1877, Muirhead was a twenty-one year member of the 73rd Regiment and right-hand man to Fleming Blanchard McCurdy, Conservative MP for Shelburne and Queen’s. After listening to the personal attacks against Muirhead in the House of Commons, McCurdy, came to the defence of his political protégé.

McCurdy attacked McKenzie’s insinuation as “absolutely and patently incorrect and untrue:”

Will he deny that the major has for the last eight months faced death in every form in the defence of the rights and privileges which my hon. friend to-day enjoys in ease without privation?

When Muirhead returned to Canada in early 1916, he received a commission with the 112th Battalion, commanded by Conservative MP Hadley Brown Tremain. To McKenzie and the Liberal Opposition this was just one more example of partisanship in the Militia Department.

In May 1916, Muirhead was promoted to lieutenant colonel in command of the 219th Battalion of the Nova Scotia Highlander Brigade, which also included the 85th, 185th and 193rd. As a veteran from the front, Muirhead “brought with him invaluable lessons, which could only be learned in the actual field of battle.”

After arriving in England in November 1917, the 219th was absorbed by the 17th Highland Reserve Battalion. The history of the 85th Battalion, described the disintegration of the Highland Brigade, “It was a pathetic sight to see the 193rd and the 219th march out of camp with their bands en route to Bramshott to be cremated in the melting pot of the Beise Depot.” Muirhead succeeded Lieutenant Colonel D. Cameron in command of the 17th in February 1917.

Despite the scandal, Muirhead’s standing as a veteran soldier helped to partly restore his reputation. Liberal MP for Guysborough, John Howard Sinclair for instance conceded:

Major Muirhead may be a good soldier; my hon. friend says he has already seen active service at the front. That is greatly to his credit and, for my part, I would forgive him a good deal on that account.

Muirhead died at the Queen Mary Veterans’ Hospital on 24 February 1958.

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