Lieutenant Colonel J.L. Ralston
85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) Battalion
An extremely reliable and determined Officer. He is cheerful, conscientious and tactful, with plenty of energy and drive. Well-balanced and a man of the World with plenty of ability. He learns readily, and is good at imparting knowledge. He has imagination and initiative and handles troops well.
(Senior Officer’s Course, 6 Mar 1918)
Born in Amherst on 27 September 1881, James Layton Ralston was a law graduate from Dalhousie University and Liberal member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly (1911–1920). He enlisted as a lieutenant in Allison Hart Borden’s 85th Battalion, and twice commanded the unit in the field during summer 1917 and the latter half of 1918. Multiple times wounded in action, Ralston won the Distinguished Service Order and Bar for great pluck and leadership.
Ralston pursed a professional Army career until he was elected Liberal MP for Shelburne—Yarmouth (1926—1935) and Prince (1940—1945). He assumed a prominent role in the Mackenzie King Cabinet, and became Minister of Defence after the death of Norman McLeod Rogers in June 1940.
Despite Allied victories in early 1944, the Defence Minister stressed that the hard fighting was only just beginning: “I am not a pessimist, far from it, but I am a realist. I hope I can make this country realize just what we have ahead of us.” Privately a strong advocate for conscription, Ralston had offered his resignation to Prime Minister King if the issue was not introduced the in Parliament.
Ralston publicly affirmed the Government’s support for the voluntary system but in November 1944 King replaced his Defence Minister with General Andrew McNaughton. King was eventually forced to instituted limited conscription and Ralston did not stand for re-election in 1945.
He died in Montreal on 21 May 1948.