Lieutenant Colonel Harry Baker, M.P. †
5th Canadian Mounted Rifles
It has been the lot of other nations to have their legislators, their parliamentarians, even their kings put on the uniform of soldiers and go forth to battle and meet a patriot’s death, but so far it has been the lot of Canada only once.
(Arthur Meighen, Debates, 3 Mar 1924, 49)
George Harold Baker was the only sitting Canadian Member of Parliament killed in action during the First World War. Born in Sweetsburg, Quebec on 4 November 1877, Baker was Conservative MP for Brome (1911—1916) and commanding officer of the 13th Scottish Light Dragoons. He died in the battle of Sanctuary Wood on 2 June 1916. He is commemorated with a life-sized bronze statue in the Centre Block of the House of Commons.
Baker was authorized to raise the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles from the Eastern Townships in January 1915. The regiment sailed for England in July and deployed to France in October. Baker wrote home, “Our fellows take to the game like ducks to water; when their turn in the trenches ends they don’t want to come out. However, that will wear off as the months go by.”
Indeed, six months on the front began to take a noticeable toll on Baker. “I almost think I would rather be a private,” he explained, “The responsibility of a thousand men is great… This game does not make a man younger.” He was killed two months later during heavy enemy bombardment of the Canadian front line.
Captain William Rhoades described the last moments to Baker’s sister:
…the Colonel’s cheery voice had always been heard, whenever a shell or bomb burst very near, calling “Are you all right. Captain?”
I was not badly hurt and called out, “Are you all right. Sir?” Getting no answer, I felt over for the Colonel, and found him lying unconscious, but breathing faintly.”
Second-in-command Major D. C. Draper won the D.S.O. pulling his superior to safety, but Baker quickly succumbed to his injuries. Capt. Rhoades reassured Baker’s sister, “It may help to lighten your grief a little to know that your dear brother’s face was not marred in any way — he looked to be asleep, very peacefully…”
In May 1919, a parliamentary committee organized to consider an appropriate memorial for their fallen member. What began as a simple bas-relief sculpture soon evolved into a life-sized statue. Designed by R. Tait McKenzie, the monument was intended to be “representative of an idealized type of Canadian officer.” On 29 February 1924, Governor General Lord Byng unveiled the bronze statue before assembled parliamentary leaders and guests in Centre Block.
Prime Minister Mackinezie King emphasized, “It is personal in character, but it is also essentially symbolic.” He explained that the memorial not only honoured Baker but also all the members of the House and Senate who had served in the war as well as the sons of MPs killed in battle.
Although Baker was the only parliamentarian killed in action, as the Toronto Globe reminded readers, “Lieut.-Col. Sam Sharpe’s death was the result of service in France.”
Digitized Service File (LAC):