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Heritage Society

Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

Princess Patricia's Canadian
Light Infantry (Re-enacted)


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PPCLI and The Great War

"This is the finest battalion I have ever inspected" -King George V, 4 November, 1914

The founding of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was undoubtedly in response to the unfolding events that led to the First World War. Captain Andrew Hamilton Gault, the founder of the Regiment, had the foresight to understand the severity of the situation in Europe, and the willingness to create an army unit that would be able to mobilize quickly in an international crisis. The creation of the PPCLI enabled Canada to expedite a military force overseas in 1914.

The growth of nationalism and imperialism throughout Europe during the early years of the twentieth century fashioned an atmosphere of conflicting political goals. Nationalism, combined with the creation of secret military alliances throughout Europe, fomented growing social and political upheaval. Shortly before Sunday afternoon, June 28th, 1914, the citizens of Sarajevo gathered to see Archduke Francis Ferdinand heir to the Austria-Hungary throne. As his royal touring car passed by the crowds, a young Bosnian student, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated both the Archduke and his wife. Austria-Hungary suspected that Serbia had approved the plot to kill Ferdinand, and declared war on Serbia. The balance of power that bound peace in Europe was broken, and the secret alliances of the international community came to light.

Canada's quick response to the war was due in part to the wealthy and distinguished Montreal businessman and Captain of the Royal Highlanders of Canada, Hamilton Gault. As a veteran of the South African war, Gault remained personally involved with the Canadian political responsibility to Britain as part of the Empire. As the climate of war overshadowed the international community in early August 1914, Hamilton Gault ventured by train to Ottawa with a proposal. He would personally raise and equip a mounted unit of Canadians for the Imperial authorities. The proposal was set in front of Colonel Sam Hughes, the Canadian Minister of the Militia and Defence. Colonel Hughes was attracted to the offer, but thought that an Infantry unit, as opposed to cavalry, would be more useful to Britain.

On August 4th, 1914, Germany's invasion of Belgium forced Britain into the war. As a loyal member of the Empire, Canada also declared war.

Great Britain's Declaration of War made Hamilton Gault's proposal even more credible to the Government. Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Farquhar, DSO, was an officer with the Coldstream Guards and Military Secretary to Canada's Governor General, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught. He was enthusiastic about Gault's proposal, and knew the Government was seriously reviewing the idea. Canada would need every trained officer and man of the Militia for the considerable force which she now proposed to send to Europe. That source would be denied to the new regiment. However, there were thousands of former soldiers of the British Regular Army and veterans of the Boer War in Canada. If recruited, they would need only a minimum of training and could be in the field within weeks. Farquhar outlined his ideas on paper:

1. The raising of 2 double companies, organized as a self-contained half battalion, strength all ranks 500 men.

2. Recruiting. The scheme of recruiting not in any degree to clash with the Militia, my object being to make use of the many men now in Canada who have seen service and who are not at present enlisted in any unit. These men should shake down quickly.

3. Sources of Recruiting.a) Police Forces such as the CPR, Toronto and Winnipeg police, etc. b)Various veterans' societies or associations.c)Advertisement in papers

4. Qualifications.a)Having seen active service b)Age 35 or less c)Physically fit. d)Ex-Regular soldiers to have at least a 'fair' character certificate. Other recruits to have an analogous 'character', e) Any man drawn from the Militia to produce written permission to enlist from the O.C. his Militia Battalion.

LT. Colonel Farquhar approached the Duke of Connaught for permission to name the Regiment after his daughter, Her Royal Highness, Princess Patricia of Connaught. Princess Patricia had already become a much admired figure in Canada because of her appreciation of the country's vast wilderness and people. The request was made to the Princess, who was delighted. On August 6th, 1914, the Canadian Government provisionally accepted Hamilton Gault's offer.

Authority for the Regiment was granted on August 10th, through a charter embodied in a report of the Committee of the Privy Council of Canada, to raise and equip an infantry battalion. As detailed in the charter Hamilton Gault would contribute $100,000 to finance and equip the battalion with the remainder of expenditures being covered by the Department of Militia and Defense.

Mobilization of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry progressed quickly. The recruiting project began on August 11th and was completed eight days later as veteran soldiers flocked to Ottawa from every part of Canada. The recruitment campaign extended to six cities: Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. By August 19th 1,098 ranks had been accepted from 3,000 applicants, and of them 1,049 had seen previous service throughout the British Empire. It is said that all but one unit in the British Army was in the ranks of the new Regiment, as well as men from the Royal Navy and Marines.

Princess PatriciaThe PPCLI Camp Colours

The Regiment's first formal parade was held on August 23rd. Princess Patricia presented her Regiment with a Camp Colour that she had designed and worked by hand. On it, the initials "VP" (Victoria Patricia) in gold were entwined upon a blue center on a crimson background. The "Ric-A-Dam-Doo", as it later became known to all Patricia soldiers, was affixed to a staff cut from a Government House maple tree. The Colour was carried into every battle in which the Regiment fought in the First World War. The Edmonton City Pipe band traveled to Ottawa under the leadership of Pipe-Major C. Colville, a veteran who reported for duty in Hunting Stewart Tartan and announced to the Commanding Officer that "We came (Sir) to pipe you to France and back again".

World War 1, 1914-18

PPCLI at Levis Camp, Quebec prior to leaving Canada in 1914HMS Royal George

Regiment left Ottawa on 28 August, 1914, and embarked at Montreal in the MEGANTIC. The sailing was cancelled due to enemy action in the Atlantic and the Regiment disembarked at Levis, PQ. During the ensuing month, the Regiment constructed a basic camp and got on with some much needed training and organization. On 27 September, 1914, it sailed from Quebec on the ROYAL GEORGE, and on 18 October, was in camp on Salisbury Plain, England.

Front of the Guard Tent, Sept 1914, Levis CampPossibly in England prior to leaving for France.

The British authorities found the Patricias to be well trained and capable of taking the field. In early November the Regiment moved to Winchester to join the 27th British Division as a unit of the 80th Brigade. Other units of the Brigade were all regular battalions of the British Army; 4th Battalion The Rifle Brigade; 3rd and 4th Battalions Kings Royal Rifle Corps; and 2nd Battalion King's Shropshire Light Infantry. On November 4th, 1914, the King , George V, inspected the PPCLI with Lords Roberts and Kitchener. The King told Farquhar, 'This is the finest battalion I have ever inspected'. Even the best of regular regiments has its share of young inexperienced soldiers. These were mature men. They wore 771 decorations or medals. Kitchener exclaimed that now he saw where all his old soldiers had gone.

The 27th Division landed in France on 21 December, 1914. The Patricias were therefore the first and only Canadian Infantry Regiment in a theatre of war in 1914. (1st Canadian Medical corps was already there).

The Patricias served one year with 80th Brigade (named the "Stonewall Brigade" after its defence of the Ypres Salient in May, 1915). The historic battle of FREZENBERG was fought on 8 May, 1915 at Bellewaerde Lake. The enemy attacked behind clouds of poison gas, however the Regiment held the front even though they were fighting from ditches and shell holes and were under fire from three sides. The Regiment came out of action commanded by Lt H.W. Niven with 154 effectives. The anniversary of this famous battle is commemorated annually by the Regiment.

On 22 December, 1915, the Regiment became part of the newly formed 3rd Canadian Division as a unit of the 7th Brigade. Other units of the Brigade were: the 42nd Battalion (Black Watch); the 49th Battalion (The Edmonton Regiment); and the Royal Canadian Regiment. The Regiment fought in many actions throughout the rest of World War I and were part of the Canadian Corp which stormed Vimy Ridge on 9 April, 1917.

During the battles around Passchendaele on 30 October, 1917, Lieutenant Hugh McKenzie and Sergeant George Harry Mullin won the Victoria Cross for gallantry. The Regiment's third Victoria Cross was won at Parvillers in August, 1918 by Sergeant Robert Spall.

In November 1918, the Patricia's were involved in pursuing the Germans and on 11 November, 1918 No. 4 Company entered Mons and shortly thereafter the Armistice was declared.

Battle Honours

First World War
YPRES, 1915, '17
Hill 70
Somme, 1916
SCARPE, 1918
Hindenburg Line
Ancre Heights
Canal Du Nord
Arras, 1917-18
VIMY, 1917

Lest We Forget


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