Lieutenant Colonel James D. Taylor, M.P.
131st (New Westminster) Battalion
Mr. Chairman, there is poison gas disseminated in connection with this war from other quarters than the trenches in the German line, and there is sniping equally disastrous to the cause of the war as that of the German sharpshooters. I am one of those colonels, commanding officers, of which the hon. gentlemen who act the part of political snipers in Canada speak so contemptuously in this House and through their press.
(J. D. Taylor, Debates, 6 Feb 1917, 565)
James Davis Taylor was a journalist and publisher in Ottawa and British Columbia and Conservative MP for New Westminster (1908—1917). He was born on 2 September 1863 in Abenaqui Mills, Canada East. During the Northwest campaign, he fought as a private with the Ottawa Sharpshooters at the battle of Cut Knife on 2 May 1885. After the Rebellion, he bought the Canadian Militia Gazette and later organized the 104th Militia Regiment in 1904. He led the 131st Battalion to England before returning to Canada in early January 1917.
According to Captain Keith Campbell MacGowan of the 131st, a court of inquiry:
…decided that he, Taylor, had not looked after his Batt’n. properly when they first arrived as he and his Senior Major and Adj. adjourned to the mess and had drinks and never went out to see how the men were doing and also that he was responsible for the whole trouble so he went home a thoroughly discredited man. That finding suits me, believe me. (MacGowan to Mother, 27 Jan 1917)
When Taylor returned to the House of Commons, he also endured partisan attacks from the opposition party and the press who criticized “safety-first” colonels for leaving their men at the front. When William Manley German, MP for Welland, suggested that they could have reverted and fought as privates, Taylor retorted:
…when I was of the age at which men do go as privates, I went to the front as a private in the service of my country. I am not of that age now and I could not go as a private nor as a lieutenant.
Taylor vigorously defended the reputation of himself and his fellow colonels, insisting that they fulfilled essential duties even in non-combat roles. Nevertheless, the breakup of his battalion was a painful experience because the New Westminster MP had call on volunteers “not to go to the front, but come to the front with me.”
On 23 October 1917, Prime Minister Borden appointed Taylor to the Senate. In later years, Taylor described his command of the 131st Battalion as the “happiest year” of his life. For the fifty-three year old, the brief return to military service had allowed him a nostalgic revisit of his youth when he had fought at Cut Knife.
On 11 May 1941, the British Columbia senator vanished from a train traveling through Saskatchewan. His sleeping compartment was found empty with the glass window broken. The next day the body of seventy-seven year old Taylor was discovered alongside the tracks.