30 October 2013

New Brunswick Boy in Number 10

Here's to Bonar Law, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who took his final breath ninety years ago today. No one was much surprised by his passing; a diagnosis of inoperable throat cancer had forced his resignation just five months earlier. Law holds an unenviable record as the shortest serving British prime minister of the 20th century. Still, his 209 days as a PM (23 October 1922 - 22 May 1923) is far longer than Kim Campbell can claim. In this respect, Law is in Joe Clark's league.

I mention Campbell and Clark because Bonar Law, also a Tory, holds the distinction of being the only British prime minister to have been born on Canadian soil; in fact, he's the only person born outside the British Isles to have held the office. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, Law drew his first breath in Rexton, New Brunswick, where he lived until the age of twelve.

Law's forced retirement was much to brief for him to pen his memoirs; he had no ghostwriter or "editorial consultant". The longest piece I have by the man comes in the form of a two-page Preface to Canada in Flanders (Toronto: Hodder & Stoughton, 1916) by friend Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, a fellow Presbyterian pastor's son and native of New Brunswick.

Two of Law's sons would be killed in the Great War, losses that followed the death of his wife and a stillborn child. For all his political successes, the 20th century wasn't kind to Law, yet he embraced it. Here Law "marks an epoch in Cinematography" in the first cabinet meeting to be filmed "within the historic and sacred walls of No. 10 Downing St."

"A fine study of the quiet and yet steadfast dignity of the New Prime Minister," reads one of the cards. I see a man looking uncomfortable before the camera. A shy smile breaks through in the last seconds.

Look carefully and you'll see members of this very same cabinet in this Pathé newsreel twelve months later. I recommend watching with the sound off.

Andrew Bonar Law
Rextion, New Brunswick, 16 September 1858 -
London, England, 30 October 1923

1 comment:

  1. Clearly, whoever picked the music for the second video spawned a generation of children who grew up to select covers for P.O.D. publishers.