Honorary Captain J.H. Burnham, MP
Lieutenant Colonel T.J. Johnston
93rd (Peterborough) Battalion
I think that, as one who spent six months in England and a few days in France, I am called upon to say something on behalf of the soldiers…
Knowing humanity as I do–and I have lived quite a few years now; and I may tell you that I was connected with the 93rd Battalion from its inception and was with it in England until it was dispersed and sent to France—a more sober, orderly, upright, and thoroughly decent lot of men I never saw, even amongst the politicians
(J. H. Burnham, Debates 26 Apr 1917, 817)
Born on 12 January 1861 in Otonobee, Canada West, Thomas James Johnson was a militia officer with nearly forty years’ experience in the 3rd Prince of Wales’ Canadian Dragoons. In November 1915, he was authorized to raise the 93rd Battalion from Peterborough. Conservative MP John Hampden Burnham acted as honorary captain to assist with recruiting. A graduate of the University of Toronto with a Masters’ of Arts, Burnham was nicknamed “the philosopher” by colleagues in the House of Commons.
In February 1916, Burnham was one of several Conservative MPs to return to Ottawa for the new session wearing their uniforms. P.E.I. Liberal J. J. Hughes, mocked the fifty-five year old Burnham: “I presume he would be would be able to give good military service. Now, whether these men are drawing double pay of not I do not know, but I say that this is a time for economy, a time when men should not try to make their patriotism pay.”
After departing Canada in July 1916, the 93rd was broken up in England. Burnham briefly went to France on a tour of the trenches. When he returned to the House of Commons, he defended the reputation of the troops from accusations of drunkenness and disorder.
When we investigated things in France we found that men were being called upon to exert themselves to the utmost not only physically, but nervously; that is, they had to draw upon their nerve power. We found that men, who, before, perhaps, had not been very great men, after they had gone to France, had become really great. They were able to stand the stress and storm, the horror and danger of war. We were right where it was going on. We were amidst the thunders of it and we saw these men bear themselves casually; they were not afraid.
For Burnham, drunkenness and liquor was not the problem; the real danger he asserted was venereal diseases.
Burnham was the only Conservative MP to break with his party in the debate over the Military Service Act. He argued for the “conscription of wealth” in addition to the conscription of men. Despite his defiance, he easily secured re-election with a 3400 vote majority. The soldier vote broke in his favour 1196 to 60.
However, Burnham continued to be a thorn in the Union Government’s side. In protest of continued Unionism after the war rather than return to the old Conservative brand, Bunrham resigned his seat to run as an independent conservative. He lost in the subsequent by-election on 7 February 1921.
Burnham died on 25 April 1940.