Today in Canada's Political History - February 21, 1939: The Manchester Guardian reviews Sir Robert Borden’s memoirs

Canada’s eighth Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, was the second retired Canadian PM to write full-length memoirs. Sir Charles Tupper had been the first.

Borden worked on his two-volume memoirs for a full decade and they remain the starting point for any historian writing about eighth PM and his times. Sadly, Sir Robert passed into history before his two-volume story was published in 1938.

When his memoirs did finally appear, they were reviewed on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the papers that published a review was none other than the respected Manchester Guardian in the U.K. The reviewer showed particular interest in the role Borden had played in the quest for greater autonomy for Canada and the other British Dominions during his premiership.

“To Borden the Tory, as much as to any other individual is due the present acceptance, of the Liberal concept of ‘Dominion status,’” the review stated. “It was service as war-time Premier which gave this new direction to his ideas. Sir Robert mentions his historic role only once in a modest footnote: ‘In conversation with me on one occasion (South Africa’s General) Smuts remarked, 'You and I have transformed the structure of the British Empire.' But the narrative here speaks for itself. Sir Robert's insistence on recognition of the Dominion as a nation brought him into several collisions. It began during the war when he found that the War Office had a plan which ‘would have seriously impaired the strength and prestige of the Canadian Corps in France and perhaps effaced the identity of it.’ This was circumvented.”

“The identity of the Canadian Army under General Currie was preserved,” the Guardian continued. “In 1919 it was Borden, seconded by Smuts and Botha, who led the successful demand that the Dominions should take part in negotiations, sign the treaties, and join the League as distinct nations. His account of these years is, lively reading and includes sharp criticism of British soldiers, British politicians, and their conduct of the war.”

The review ended with gentle criticism of the book. “Ruthless editing could have improved the work by making it more compact.”

Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.