The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry commemorate their formation

Posted on on 12 August 2014
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Centenary News volunteer writer Christopher J Harvie, who lives in Ontario, Canada, reports on how The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was formed 100 years ago this month - and how current soldiers are commemorating the 100th anniversary.

'Always a Patricia'

For a young country like Canada, one hundred years may seem a more poignant milestone than those with a longer reach into the past.

The world was a very different place then; it would never again be the same. Allegiances, ideals and empires would be crushed under the weight of an unimagined war.

Before that happened, in the heady optimism of an expected quick victory, the world was still able to witness a wealthy private citizen raise and equip a battalion of men to the service of his King.

Captain Andrew Hamilton Gault was such a man. Born to a Montreal family of British extraction, Gault had aspired to a military life. Having served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles in the South African War in 1902, his desire for a regular commission with the British Army afterward was quelled by declining need of officers post war.

At age thirty, he received an inheritance of a modest fortune and may well have spent the remainder of his life as a gentleman of means had it not been for a tinderbox crisis half a world away. 

Precautionary Steps

On July 29, 1914, the British government sent word throughout the Empire to take precautionary steps in event of war. It was then that Gault began to devise his concept. Falling in with common thinking that a European war would be a quick affair, the young Captain wanted to be able to raise a regiment that might be deployed rapidly lest he not get overseas before the war ended.

In early August Gault sent his proposal to the Canadian government which was received with some enthusiasm. Minister of Militia, Sam Hughes, worried that a privately raised force would draw strength away from established regiments. Such was Hughes’ influence that he might stop Gault before the idea had been properly formed. Lt Colonel Francis D Farquhar, Military Secretary to the Governor General invited Gault to Ottawa to discuss a compromise.

The new battalion, Farquar put forward, would be established of men under 35 who had seen service with British forces and had been of good conduct. To avoid running afoul of Hughes it would be stipulated that any member of the Active Militia wishing to join must have written permission from their parent unit’s commanding officer.

Princess Patrcia

Farquar was nominated to command and it was he who suggested the regiment take its name from the Governor General’s youngest daughter, Princess Patricia. The designation “light infantry” was suggested because Gault liked the “irregular feel” of it. Britain’s declaration of war sped up the establishment process.

By August 6th the proposal was provisionally accepted by the government, the regiment’s name and Farquhar’s appointment approved. Two days later, the War Office in London conferred official permission. 

Gault arranged the financial matters, committing $100 000 for “raising, clothing, equipping, pay, transportation, feeding, maintenance and all other expenditures connected with this Battalion in and out of Canada.”

On the 10th the Charter of the Regiment was signed and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry came into being.

Quick to Volunteer

Men were quick to volunteer and very soon the battalion was at full establishment of 1,098 all ranks, of whom 1,049 had previous regular service, many of them veterans of South Africa.

The expediency of the regiments raising, the level of competence of its experienced members and the logistical shortcut of private money ensured the Patricia’s would get to the front in short order. They were in France by the 21st of December, as part of 80th Brigade, British Expeditionary Force.

Lt Col Farquar would be killed at St Eloi on 20th March, 1915, unfortunately not living long enough to see the regiment he helped create form its reputation in their stubborn defense of Bellewaerde Ridge at the Battle of Frezenburg, 8th May. 

In 2014, Lt General Marquis Hainse, Commander Canadian Army mentioned the legacy of this reputation:  “The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry have always done the Canadian Army proud. From Frezenberg to Leonforte, and from Kapyong, to the Balkans, and Afghanistan, PPCLI soldiers have battled with tremendous tenacity, courage, and passion.”

Col Agar Adamson

Credibility as a tough fighting force does not often come cheaply and the Patricia’s gained theirs at the loss of half their number killed, wounded and missing.

Another CO, Lt Col Buller was killed in 1916. He was succeeded by Lt Col Agar Adamson, the regiment’s first Canadian born commander. Adamson would lead the battalion for the rest of the war and would leave to posterity a legacy of frank and earthy observations within his daily correspondence to his wife, Mabel.

He wrote on 3 March 1915, “There is also a dead Frenchman there and has been for a long time. We got orders reading ‘Keep the Shelley Farm on your right, and pass between the broken tree and the dead Frenchman on your right’, so the poor fellow was being of some use in death.”

On the 22nd of December 1915 the regiment was transferred from 80th Brigade to the 7th Brigade, 3d Canadian Division. Their prior year of experience at the front lent much in the way of veteran expertise to an otherwise new division.

For the remainder of the war its journey would be that of its compatriots within the Canadian Corps, adding to its history the names of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, among others.

Memorial Baton

That history, and the Patricia’s reputation have been a continuous lineage; today it is one of three Regular Force infantry regiments of the Canadian Army.

In commemoration of its hundredth anniversary, PPCLI soldiers will be carrying a Memorial Baton containing the names of 1,866 PPCLI members who have fallen in active service to Canada over the last century.

The Memorial Baton Relay will be making 22 stops between Edmonton and Ottawa and will cross five provinces — Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

Posted by: CN Editor

Copyright: author and Centenary News