ANC-PA0880 | Sir Robert Borden chats to wounded man at Base Hospital

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Sir Robert Borden chats to wounded man at Base Hospital
March 1917, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
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Keys to History

When he visited England in the summer of 1915, Sir Robert Borden spent every spare moment visiting Canadian wounded. It was no pro forma visit: he stopped and talked to each man in the long hospital wards, carefully noting requests and addresses of families and friends he would contact on his return. When he fumed at the lack of purpose of his British government colleagues, he thought again of the young Canadians who had risked everything in the war and who would never fully recover. When he campaigned for more soldiers, he thought of the young men in hospital who would return to the trenches to die if more men were not forthcoming -- as volunteers or as conscripts. In the hospitals, Borden saw what no one back in Canada would ever see, and the sight made an earnest man stubborn enough to risk his career and his political party for their sake.

The Prime Minister believed that it was his duty to visit wounded soldiers because he felt personally responsible for the decisions that had sent Canadian troops to France in the Great War, and he wanted to see with his own eyes the treatment they were receiving. Since their relatives could not visit them, he accepted a special obligation. In the Second World War Canada's prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, made a point of not visiting military hospitals. A politician who did so, in King's view, could easily have his judgement warped. Imagine putting wounded soldiers ahead of other voters!

  • What

    If wounded soldiers recovered sufficiently to serve again, as most did, they trained at convalescent depots until they were physically fit and then returned to their unit in France to resume their duties and the risk of death and fresh wounds. Was it fair that men who had suffered should run fresh risks while other young men stayed safely in Canada?

  • Where

    The hospital and the soldiers are not identified, but it is probably in northern France.

  • When

    This photograph was probably taken in 1917 during Borden's visit to the Front.

  • Who

    Sir Robert Borden visits two wounded Canadian soldiers during a visit to France in 1917.