Tuesday, 30 September 2014


Newly painted battleship grey, the Canadian Northern Steamship Royal George sailed down the St Lawrence to join the Canadian Contingent and its escorting warships harboured in the Gaspe Basin on September 30, 1914. There they anchored for two days while the full convoy assembled. 

Agar Adamson wrote to his wife Mabel, "After 27 days at Levis Camp we embarked on 27 September sleeping on board and training on shore during the day. By the 30th we sailed from Quebec arriving at Gaspe basin on the 1st October, joining the waiting fleet of 20 ships and on the 3rd, the fleet having grown to 31 transports filled with troops or horses we started off in three lines of 10 ships each with Eclipse, Diana, Charybdis, Glory and Talbot convoying us. These have been added to until now we have six more including the Lion, the largest battle Cruiser afloat."

There were a total of 36 transports carrying 32,000 men, 105 nursing sisters, and 34 chaplains, Adamson reported to Rodney in a letter accompanied by a neat diagram. "We will all start off at once, four abreast, with four men-of-war conveying us, one in front, one behind, and one on each side", although his optimistic description is in direct contrast to reports of chaos on those final days as the first troopships were being organized to go overseas. 

A sense of excitement and wonder filled the air and each new ship that arrived was met with great cheers from the men aboard the others. Sam Hughes, beaming with pride, scurried between ships in a tugboat conveying best wishes and delivering last minute information. The revenue cutter Canada sailed through the fleet, offering to take letters and post them in Halifax. Hundreds of letters were thrown overboard in response but many were carried off into the wind and left floating behind. Talbot Papineau made several pencil sketches of the ships and the river, and these survive among his papers.

PPCLI on board the Royal George

Saturday, 27 September 2014


After a month of waiting and training at St. Joseph de Levis, an old militia camp on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, the Patricia's received orders for embarkation. Finally the Regiment would set sail for Europe. On September 27th, 1914 they boarded the R.M.S. Royal George.

It was at Camp Levis that Hamilton Gault arranged to produce the first batch of scarlet shoulder badges on which the letters 'PPCLI' were embroidered in white. The shoulder titles were made by the Sisters of Charity, the order of nuns established by Saint Marguerite d' Youville in 1752 and the same order of nuns who had knitted for Wolfe's Highlanders in 1759. Gault was aware the Sisters of Charity cared for the wounded after the Battle of Quebec in 1759. In the rest of North America this order is known as the "Grey Nuns." The original PPCLI shoulder titles were modelled after those worn by the British Army from 1902 to 1908. British infantry regiments were directed to wear curved shoulder titles featuring white letters on a red background on their khaki service dress. These uniforms were withdrawn from service in July 1908. 

PPCLI Originals at Camp Levis, Quebec led by Hamilton Gault

The extra month in training had provided an opportunity to straighten out rusty skills or instill non-existent ones. This included siting and digging trenches, advance and rear guards, outpost duties and practicing attacks both day and night. The men spent a significant amount of time on the ranges testing the Ross Rifle, the Quebec-manufactured sporting rifle that Sam Hughes insisted on issuing to all Canadian troops. The rifle was not popular with PPCLI soldiers, the majority of whom had qualified on the British Lee Enfield rifle during their previous service. Although much has been made of the Ross rifle's tendency to jam, the design of its bolt, and its bayonet occasionally detaching when it fired, the weapon suffered from more serious design shortcomings. It was one pound heavier than the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) Mark III issued to British soldiers. It was also 15 inches longer, which made the weapon more cumbersome in the confines of a trench system. However, the most significant difference between the two weapons was the magazine. The Ross rifle had a five-round magazine; the SMLE had a ten-round magazine that could be loaded more quickly. 

Ultimately, Farquhar rejected the Ross Rifle before the units' departure for France, the first Canadian unit to do so, choosing instead the standard British Lee Enfield. The rest of the Canadian Expeditionary Force would be burdened with the ineffective rifle until late 1915. "The experience we have had with the Ross," wrote Farquhar in an official memo, "can hardly fail to have shaken the confidence of the men in that rifle." 

Captain Buller and Lt Col Farquhar

The recruiting restrictions placed on Farquhar and Gault meant they weren't able to draw upon the more experienced militia and as such, many of the officers in the original contingent of Patricia's were unlikely choices.

Captain George Bennett, for example, was a former Regina bank clerk and the brother of Conservative Member of Parliament, R.B. Bennett. Selected for service with the PPCLI not due to his military prowess but through his political pull,  he was appointed paymaster.

Captain Charles Stewart, a Nova Scotia bachelor from a prominent family, was another example of an officer selected for his connections to high society rather than for excellence or integrity in past service. Charlie Stewart was known more for his defiant nature and his bold adventurous spirit. His chequered past included expulsion from the Royal Military College for gambling, demotion within ranks of the mounted police for striking a corporal and numerous affairs with women, married and otherwise.

Two of the most unlikely originals, now legendary in Regimental history, are Talbot Papineau and Agar Adamson.

Papineau, an old friend of Gault’s, was the French Canadian great-grandson of Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the "patriote" during the Rebellion of 1837. He was the cousin of Henri Bourassa, the arch opponent of French Canadian participation in the War. Papineau, an intellectual, had no military experience whatsoever but had sent a personal telegram to Hamilton Gault asking to join the Regiment, in spite of the very English overtones of the newly formed battalion. Gault accepted his request immediately and Papineau was made a Lieutenant. His Aunt wrote, "Imagine a descendant of Louis-Joseph Papineau the Front. God be praised!"

Agar Adamson was perhaps the most remarkable of the recruits. He was 48 when he enlisted, a decade older than what would normally be consider the oldest of recruits, and blind in one eye. Also born into Canadian aristocracy, Adamson had served with the Lord Strathcona's Horse in the Boer War in 1900 where he discovered a passion for commanding troops in action. The day after war was declared in 1914, Adamson left at once for Ottawa and learned of Gault's plan. The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry provided a last window of opportunity for an aging Agar Adamson to soldier once again. 

For Papineau, the additional training at Levis was an opportunity to discover how little he knew. "I spend as much time as possible reading my manuals," he wrote to his mother. "The other day I tied my platoon all up and had an awful time getting it straightened out. I seem to get along well with the men but I make a good many mistakes in drill, which is most annoying." 

For Agar Adamson, the month at Levis brought him back to his youth. The officers had all been provided with excellent horses by wealthy admirers and the drills brought out the best in him. 

"We had a great night march a few nights ago," he wrote to his thirteen year old son Rodney. He described in the letter how he had led his company through three miles of thick woods and underbrush, with only a tiny radium-illuminated compass as guide, and emerged triumphantly at dawn precisely at the point where the white flag was posted. "I was quite please with the result", he continued, "because you know that, as your mother says, I can lose my way in the daytime anywhere in Toronto, but it is a different game we are playing just now." He relays, "you can send long messages by moving  your arms in certain directions"  and spoke about a forced march during which he carried "a sword, a greatcoat, a pistol and fifty rounds of ammunition, a blanket, a waterproof sheet, a water bottle, a haversack and a pair of field-glasses" for twenty-seven miles, the last five miles non-stop. There are also stories about the Rugger game with the sergeants, "The next morning I felt as if every bone in my body had been broken," he wrote, "but we won by one goal to a try." 

Adamson took the training seriously and as second-in-command of Company C, earned the respect of his men. He in turn gave them his deep respect. "They are a fine lot," he told Rodney. "They never complain no matter how wet or tired or cold they are, and very often, they are all three."

Pte Thomas Pritchard proudly displaying the Ric-A-Dam-Doo
Camp Levis
, Quebec, September 1914. 

Saturday, 13 September 2014


The Regiment’s first Colonel-in-Chief, Her Royal Highness Princess Patricia of Connaught, was born on March 17th, 1886, St. Patrick’s Day. She was the daughter of the distinguished Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, and the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Princess Patricia’s mother was Princess Louise Marguerite of Prussia. 

In 1911, the Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s third son and favourite child, was appointed Governor General of Canada. He was the first Royal to take this post in Canada. Princess Patricia, a well traveled young woman, accompanied her parents and settled into Rideau Hall in Ottawa. She endeared herself to Canadians with her easy natural style and vivacious personality. She embraced the Canadian way of life and eagerly participated in games and outdoor sports. A talented artist, she was happiest wearing her painting smock with brushes in hand and was captivated by the Canadian landscape. The glamorous and elegant Princess, who had won all hearts by her charm and beauty, graced Canada’s newest Regiment with her name. 

Princess Patricia in the gardens
Princess Patricia at her easel 

Princess Patricia’s greatest passion in life was her artwork and as such she took great pleasure in personally designing the Regimental cap and collar badges bearing the insignia of a single white daisy in honour of Hamilton Gault’s lovely wife, Marguerite. She also designed the original Camp Colour for the Regiment to take overseas. It was hand-sewn by the Princess herself and presented to the Regiment on the 23rd of August, 1914. It was carried by the Regiment into every battle throughout the First World War. On 28 January 1919, it was formally consecrated and became the Regimental Colour.

The original Marguerite Cap Badge

The original RIC-A-DAM-DOO

Throughout the early war years Princess Patricia worked for the Canadian Red Cross and upon her return to England in 1916 she worked at the Maple Leaf Club for Canadian Soldiers in London and at the Canadian Hospital in Orpington. All her efforts were focused on helping wounded Canadian soldiers during the war.  

Rumours of romance had been circulating for years about Princess Patricia and speculation around her ultimate partner in marriage was a favourite topic in Edwardian times. Several foreign princes, including the future Kings of Portugal and Spain and the Grand Duke Michael of Russia had been considered for the match. In the end, though, her choice of husband was not of royal blood, but a commoner, Naval Officer Commander Sir Alexander Ramsey. They had fallen in love when they met in Ottawa several years before the war and discretely courted until the announcement of their marriage. On their wedding day, February 27, 1919, Princess Patricia of Connaught relinquished the style of Royal Highness and the title of Princess of Great Britain and Ireland and assumed the style of “Lady Patricia Ramsey”. Regardless of the loss of her royal title, the couple, along with their one son, were always active members of the extended royal family. She remained in the line of succession and attended all major royal events. 

Official Department of National Defence Portrait 

Princess Patricia held her appointment as Colonel-in-Chief and played an active role in the Regiment until her death. She was succeeded in 1974 by her cousin and goddaughter, the Rt. Hon. Lady Patricia Brabourne, the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, and daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten. The Countess asked that her titles be disregarded and that she be referred to as Lady Patricia in honour of her predecessor. Madame Adrienne Clarkson, a former Governor General of Canada, took over the appointment on March 17th 2007, becoming the first Canadian to hold the appointment and serves currently as the Regiment’s third Colonel in Chief.

The original Colour, designed by Princess Patricia and commonly referred to as the RIC-A-DAM-DOO, is located in The Hall of Honour in the PPCLI Museum in the Military Museums in Calgary with the original wreath of laurel. Historically and symbolically, it represents the heart and spirit of the Regiment. At a farewell parade at Bramshot, England, on the 21st February, 1919 Princess Patricia decorated her Colour with a wreath of Laurel in silver gilt (known as the "Wreath of Immortelles”). A facsimile of the wreath of laurel is now carried on the pike of all three Regimental Colours. 

A collection of Princess Patricia’s still-lifes and landscapes are also housed in the PPCLI Museum and Archives in Calgary.