Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Having missed the opportunity to assist with humanitarian aid during the Boer War Mabel Adamson was not going to be left behind for this one. As this had been a completely impulsive decision, Mabel did not arrive with a plan but with a zest for adventure. At forty five years of age, like so many women of her day, the war gave her a new purpose - and one that had never been so fulfilling.

Mabel and Anthony arrived in Liverpool on October 27th, 1914 to a very different England. The first change she encountered was that strict immigration restrictions had been put into effect. "It is very difficult getting into England now," she wrote to her mother. "All the passengers were assembled in the saloon and no one is allowed off until they are cross-questioned as to their nationality, business, etc, and all foreigners have to have passports." Gone were the days of easy travel as this emergency measure would never be repealed.
Mabel Cawthra Adamson c.  1910

Mabel would have to adjust to the new paper money being issued by the banks as well. During the financial panic that followed the declaration of war, gold sovereigns, which had been the hallmark of the British Empire, were recalled by the banks under the Currency and Bank Note Act of 1914 for fear of money hoarding. The Currency and Bank Note Act gave His Majesty's Treasury the power to issue one pound and ten shilling bank notes as legal tender which would increase the availability of money by printing it.

The city of London was changed too with patriotic flags hung on every post, recruiting posters in every window, excited newsboys selling local and foreign papers and Red Cross collection boxes everywhere. At night a blackout was imposed on the city, with shop windows covered in dark paper, street lamps turned off and only red lanterns hung to guide traffic. One large search light scanned continuously at the entrance to Hyde Park giving an eery glow to the fog.

In spite of signs everywhere that war was raging not so far away, Londoners themselves seemed to be disconnected from the horrors and almost appeared to be enjoying the spirit of pageantry in the city. "We danced every night," one socialite of the time remembered years later. "It was only when someone you knew well or with whom you were in love was killed, that you minded really dreadfully."

A columnist wrote,"It requires some effort to realize that London is almost within hearing distance of the great battle of the Aisne. Business proceeds very much as usual...the shops are crowded with busy, animated but very matter-of-fact shoppers...one has to wait for a table in a popular cafe...the only real reminder is the sign 'Quiet for the Wounded' that swings outside Charing Cross Hospital." 

Although in time, the wounded in their bright blue convalescent uniforms and women wearing mourning black would start to dominate the cityscape, in these early days the only people that seemed to be affected by the war were the thousands of displaced Belgian refugees flooding into England. By mid-October, more than a hundred thousand had crossed the channel.

Mabel Adamson was determined to make a difference with the war effort and the Belgian refugees became her new focus. As an initial gesture, she had brought with her trunk loads of old clothes collected from all her friends and acquaintances in Toronto. She had no intention of leisurely passing the time away between Agar's visits on leave like so many of the other women and eagerly got right to work. 

Friday, 24 October 2014


When he had arrived at Plymouth, Agar Adamson was finally able to mail the letters he'd been writing to Mabel on the journey overseas. Rather than find a letter waiting for him in return though, he received a cable with astonishing news. He would see Mabel in person long before his letters would actually reach her. The cable announced that their son Rodney was in boarding school in St. Catherine's, Ontario and Mabel and Anthony were in New York ready to board the 'Mauretania' for a cross-Atlantic voyage to England.

Bustard Camp, Salisbury Plains.
24 October 1914.

My dear Mabel,

I can not make out from your cable whether it is you alone or your mother and the children who are coming from Canada. I wired you from Plymouth "What are you coming over about" have received no answer. By your last letter the 9th of Oct. you say Mrs. Cawthra is leaving at the end of this month.

We are scattered all over Salisbury Plains under canvas. Weather wet and cold, troops cheerful under most trying conditions. Most of the Canadian contingent will be here (by order) till middle of January. We were warned two days ago to be ready to leave in 10 days. I was in ton last week for a night looking after Mess affairs. We are pretty hard worked, but some leave is coming to us before we go. I have all your letters, some written to Levis.

If you really want me to go and see you in London, telegraph or write to me and I will try and manage leave, the more notice you give me the better, as all officers have to take their turns so as not to, too much interfere with ordinary regimental training.

I am fit and well,

Agar Adamson.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


As was reported in 'The Times', when the Royal George anchored off Plymouth their arrival was met with the fanfare of bands playing and crowds shouting, 'Hip-Hip-Hurrah!' and singing the anthem 'Tipperary'

Sung with great enthusiasm, 'It's A Long Way To Tipperary' was one of the most popular songs with soldiers on their way to the Western Front in the summer of 1914. It was written by Jack Judge and Harry Williams in 1912 but Patricias likely heard it for the first time upon their arrival at the Plymouth Dockyard. Now sung with pride in the PPCLI Regimental March Past medley, 'Tipperary' has become synonymous with the legacy of the originals.

Three days after docking, on October 18th, the Regiment moved to Bustard on Salisbury Plain and were encamped with the Canadian Division next to the Old Bustard Inn where Division Headquarters was located. The excitement of arrival and eagerness to get to France began to wane, however, as the days wore on. 

 Lt French holding the Ric-A-Dam-Doo with the armed Colour Party,
Bustard Camp, Salisbury Plain

With no communication from the War Office about their future Gault and Farquhar began to get concerned. Now under the command of the Canadian Contingent it appeared the Patricias would be stuck for at least another three months of training at Bustard Camp before joining the fight in France.

Farquhar was also uncomfortable with the possibility the Regiment's NCO's might be pilfered by other Canadian units. As he did in Quebec, by pulling the Regiment out from under the nose of Sam Hughes at Valcartier, Farquhar again set forth to argue on behalf of the Patricias' independence from the CEF in England. For the next several weeks he relentlessly petitioned General Alderson, the Canadian Division Commander to have the Battalion moved.

The worst problem they encountered at Bustard, though, was the weather. They had arrived in England to a beautiful sunny autumn but within a week the driving rains and high winds set in, launching the worst winter in living memory.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


Agar continues his letter of October 12th to Mabel: 

Wednesday 14th.

We have had two really rough days and blowing like blazes, it is now 3 p.m. and we are within a few miles of Plymouth with orders to anchor in the harbour. I don’t suppose we will land till tomorrow.

Friday 16th.

All the transports have now been anchored in the stream off the Dockyard Plymouth. No shore leave and up to noon today no disembarkation – or any other kind of orders have been received. No communication with shore. Buller’s people are in Plymouth and he can’t even write to them. A Naval Officer who came on board told me we were to have gone to Southampton, but they discovered German submarines waiting for us, so sent us on here. We may yet go there. This is a beautiful harbour and chock full of Naval craft of sorts. When we were coming in past the boys training ships, three old oak ships one in front of the other, with bridges connecting, the boys manned the rigging and gave us a cheer. We have no idea what the War Office is going to do with us and can only stand by all packed ready to disembark or go to sea when the order comes. We have for the last 3 days run out of tobacco and drinks of any kind. The weather is beautiful and Plymouth, looks from behind our prison bars, very inviting. 

11 a.m.

The C.O. has just come aboard from a visit to the Commander in Chief and at 12:30 we are going on shore in tugs for a route march returning to the ship tonight. I will post this on the march in a pillar box, also one to Anthony.

Goodbye old girl. I hope you don’t miss me as much as I miss you at all the times. 
Ever thine,


This selection of photographs is from an unnamed personal album in the PPCLI Archives. Only the one photo of Talbot Papineau and Hamilton Gault has a caption. Click on each photo to enlarge. 

Talbot Papineau (left) and Hamilton Gault (right)
On board the Royal George

Sunday, 12 October 2014


Monday, 12th Oct. 1914.

My dear 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. Owing to some of the ships being slow, we have not been able to make nine knots an hour, our best day being 216 miles. Each day we go off seven miles to port and seven miles port of us is one of the Cruisers, in the evening we fall in the rear of the column. The Megantic does the same on the other flank. Everything we passed, we made turn about and join us, except ships flying the American flag. Some Canadian bound passengers must have been annoyed. It is really a wonderful sight to see the fleet, we have no news of any kind and no communications between ships is allowed, except orders from the flag ship. All port holes are darkened during the night. If we do not break away tomorrow and increase our speed we are not due in any port till Thursday which will just make the trip 18 days. One ship with 2,000 troops owing to their running short of food made a dash for England last night. We too are pretty short of certain stores. 


We have had a most wonderful voyage. It has never been half rough, the only real sufferer being Lady Evelyn, it has been quite warm and had one been able to find time, could have sat on deck any day without an overcoat. I have written Anthony a letter which may interest. Will you kindly consider my communications strictly as of a domestic confidential nature as I was much annoyed during the South African war by certain letters of mine appearing in the daily papers and could not have been of any interest to any one not interested in the writer and I object very much to the bright-eyed Canadian idea of wishing for limelight. We have just received a signal from the flag ship to destroy all confidential papers on board. What is behind the order is hard to understand. Two ships full of horses belonging to Canadian troops were ordered last night by the flagship to proceed to France at once. Our Signallers picked this up last night as it was being flashed to these two ships. This looks as if the army wanted horses. It will be very interesting to hear some news when we arrive, as we have been without any for 12 days. It will also be interesting to know where they are going to put us up. The C.O. is certainly trying to get us fit and we never seem to let up, I find he is only 40 years old, quite a child compared to one of his overworked officers. This is really a very nice ship, good public rooms and a wonderful smoking room. It never had a deck taken off, only a Palm Room. I have this from a man who crossed in her before the C.N.R. bought her. Tell Bertie, Captain Ward of ours met him at the Jackam’s house in Hampshire. He is a nice chap who ruined his health in India in the Rifle Brigade and now grows fruit in B.C. Mrs. Gault seems to be a lifelong friend of Mrs. Nesbitt.....

Saturday, 11 October 2014


The men in the Regiment had a very enjoyable trip across the Atlantic with calm seas and blue skies until just the last few days when they endured some rough weather. Agar Adamson, who suffered terribly from sea sickness, was prepared for the worst with a good supply of Mothersill's tablets, the most popular remedy of the day. 

With almost luxury accommodations and nightly entertainment it was a comfortable cruise indeed. Adamson wrote home that he had a private room with "a brass bed, all sorts of electric lights, a writing table, in fact everything but a piano and a clock." 

Meals was served in the elegant dining saloon with the officers being piped in each evening in accordance with mess dinner tradition. After dinner, there was usually a concert or games. In a letter to Mabel, Adamson commented on the excellent rendition of 'The Preacher and the Bear' and a delightful pastime called, 'The War Game' played on a board six feet by twelve, that he described as "very much like toy soldiering."

A vigorous training routine continued on board the ship. To maintain the level of fitness the troops had acquired in the month at Camp Levis, each day began with a half-hour run at seven a.m. followed by breakfast. The days were filled with sports and other activities including courses for all troops in map reading and navigation, bridge building as well as in a system of arm signals called semaphore.

Farquhar issued orders that each of the men must learn to speak french under the instruction of Papineau. He was adamant that any officer going to France must have a basic working knowledge of the language. This came more easily to some than others. Gault managed very well with his french lessons but Adamson struggled. He wrote to his son Anthony, "I am in the booby class and am getting on very badly and it is an awful grind".

All in all life was very pleasant aboard the Royal George. Through various sports, lessons, drills and plenty of good cheer the men strengthened the bonds of brotherhood that had begun two months earlier at Lansdowne Park. Only the occasional dead horse thrown overboard from a crowded animal ship served as memento mori, in latin, remember that you must die.

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Among the officers on board the Royal George were a surprising number of women accompanying their husbands, the most notable of which were Marguerite Gault and Lady Evelyn Farqhuar. 

Agar Adamson made reference to the situation in a letter to Mabel whom he envisioned safe at home tending to her duties and their son. In spite of his apparent disapproval he clearly enjoyed the women's company on the journey to England. 

"While there is no doubt women are a mistake on a troopship, (Mrs. Gault) has been very nice generally, she has just missed being quite pretty, sings a bit, is very much in love with her husband, wears a new dress every night for dinner. Some of them very pretty. Gault is an excellent chap, very quiet and hates to be connected financially with the Regiment and is struggling hard to become a soldier."

Marguerite Stephens Gault c. 1915

Mrs. McKinery is interesting in so far that she is a DeWet and Dutch, full of South African money obtained from mines and feathers, but with a very limited range of conversation. Lady Evelyn full of ability, upper gum and sea sickness, she has the red sister to your blue velvet coat with belt bought from Lady Evelyn Ward. She is reported to be very mean, this I know nothing of, and so far have found her most interesting. She is writing a letter to each man’s wife or mother and trying to make them all different, which is quite a difficult job. Mrs. Colquhoun, nee MacKenzie, cousin of Sir W. MacKenzie and a bride of a month, is full of views for the betterment of mankind and future generation, most of them unworkable in Men’s hands."

Lady Evelyn Farquhar 
painted by Sir John Lavery, 1907

Although it seems very unusual by today's standards, every army wife who could afford it joined their husband's on their journey overseas, many, like Marguerite, intending to work with the Red Cross. By 1917, according to the Canadian Annual Review, "about thirty thousand Canadian wives and sweethearts, accompanied by a good many others whose standing was more questionable, had drifted to England mainly for social reasons". Much to Agar's surprise, Mabel would soon follow, but with far more serious aspirations in mind.