Lt. Col. Taylor, M.P.

Lieutenant Colonel James D. Taylor, M.P.
131st (New Westminster) BattalionTaylor

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)

131stWhen 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.


4 thoughts on “Lt. Col. Taylor, M.P.

  1. It’s been quite interesting to note how the last two entries had experience in the Northwest rebellion. It’s easy to forget that it was sufficiently close in time that we could expect that, just as some US officers had experience in the closing campaigns of the American frontier.

  2. A couple of added comments.

    I wasn’t sure what the “safety first” line from the title of this blog meant until now. So it meant officers who didn’t expose themselves to the dangers their men endured?

    I note that he was 53. I turned 54 a couple of weeks ago. I was a private (but not in combat) in my youth, and then later a sergeant. I really didn’t notice the effects of aging at all until a couple of years ago, but I do now. I’d like to think that I’d have gone to the front with any men I commanded, in that situation, but its easy to imagine that you’d do the right thing.

    I’d note that Theodore Roosevelt was trying to get to France as an officer at this point, in his late 50s, and he’d be dead of declined health in just a few years.

    • Thanks for the comments! Yes, “Safety-firster” was a common slur against colonels who raised the battalions but did not share the dangers of their men by serving on the front. So they were seen to have placed their own safety first. In many cases it was not exactly a fair attack because as you note many were in their mid-50s. Roosevelt is a great comparison. His idea for older Western icons (like Seth Bullock) and other friends to gather American volunteers was very similarly to Canada’s recruitment strategy. Veterans of NW Rebellion and other older militiamen who had long prepared themselves to fight for the Empire found that when the opportunity finally came in 1914 it was a generation too late. Therefore many turned to recruitment to claim a contribution to the war effort.

      • It’s interesting that World War One was the death of the “raised” unit in the US, if you will. I didn’t really realize that until recently (I would have thought the Spanish American War was the end of that) but taking a look at our local 1917 newspapers has shown otherwise. Going into the war, there were still some local Guard units that were very distinct and there were efforts by Governors and Guard officers to form special units. Wilson’s administration would have none of it and the Army became, therefore, much more uniform as a result.

        This contrasts pretty sharply with what seems to have occurred in Canada. There seems to have been a lot of local units raised, although once deployed their original character seems to have been quickly lost in many instances.

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