Being Prime Minister during War Time

Being Prime Minister during War Time

Posted on November 7 by J.D.M. Stewart
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The First World War presented a number of challenges for Canadians, including the Prime Minister, Robert Borden. To begin with, the stress of the job had a huge impact on Borden's health. He was in capacitated by ill health in 1916 and confined to bed rest. As he wrote in his diary, he "was giving no attention at all to his work" as prime minister. Borden regularly got carbuncles or blisters on his neck as a reaction to the stress as well. 


After the war, in 1919, Borden was so exhausted, his doctor told him if he did not leave public life he "would become a nervous wreck and suffer a complete collapse." Borden took the next six months off and then retired from being prime minister. 


Health was not Borden's only challenge. There was also the danger of travelling the Atlantic Ocean to get to London for war cabinet meetings. The issue was not the rough seas but rather the threat of German U-boats. Borden noted the safety precautions taken: "This morning, eight boats equipped with water, provisions, oil, lamps, compass, sail, rockets are hanging along each ship ready to be lowered at a moment's notice. Several passengers wearing waistcoats which can be inflated in sixty seconds and will support two persons." 


All of this was quite hard on his wife, Laura, who despaired at his parting. "Laura could hardly keep tears back but was very brave," the prime minister recalled. He wrote to her regularly to "his dearest wife" while away. 


We all remember the burdens carried by soldiers and families on Remembrance Day. The country's leaders also faced challenges, not the same ones as soldiers, but they felt the stress of war, too.