Tuesday, 30 December 2014


The Patricias spent the last week of the year acclimatizing and digging trenches for the new Hazebrouck defensive line in the water-logged soil of Flanders. 

On December 29th, Hamilton Gault left with Captain Fairbanks-Smith and two NCOs for the British 3rd Division trenches near Kemmel to orient themselves with trench warfare. 

An experienced infantry officer, Captain Fairbanks-Smith enlisted with the PPCLI on August 1st, 1914 but transferred to the Durham Light Infantry in the British Expeditionary Force as a Major on 11 January 1915. 

War Diary entry: 

Tue, Dec 29, 1914 BLARINGHEM, FRANCE

29.12.14 Major (A.H.) Gault, Capt (C.F.) SMITH & 2 N.C.O’s went up to trenches of 3rd Division at KEMMEL. 24 hours in trenches to learn method of reliefs & gain experience: valuable hints and information gained. 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014


Upon arrival at Arques the men were met by a guide to lead them off into the darkness to Brigade Headquarters near Blaringhem just after midnight on December 24th. They had been told it was about an hour down the road. The guide, however, lost his way and they were forced to backtrack several miles much to the frustration of the exhausted soldiers. 

It was 3:00 a.m after marching aimlessly half the night when they finally arrived. Billets for the next few days were in the village of Blaringhem and its surrounding farms, near where the Hazebrouck defensive line was being contracted. Intervals of deep rumbling sounds heralded the approach of dawn on Christmas day. It was the thundering of the guns. Bully beef was served for Christmas dinner.

A cigarette card placed in cigarette packages issued by John Player & Sons to honour the Regiment. On the back it notes that the PPCLI was "the first Canadian Regiment to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. It has suffer more casualties and seen more fighting than any other Canadian unit".
Thu, Dec 24, 1914 ARQUES, FRANCE

24.XII.14  BLARINGHEM. The guide provided by the R.T.O. confessed after he had gone some miles that he had never been to BLARINGHEM. In consequence it took until 3 a.m. to cover the 7 miles to that village. On arrival at Brigade Headquarters was informed that we were to billet along a stretch of 2 miles, down the road we had come along. The transport pulled off into nearest field & the troops were gradually billeted the last being got in about 6. Fine, cold. 

Fri, Dec 25. 1914 BLARINGHEM, FRANCE

25.XII.14 BLARINGHEM. Spent morning overhauling packing of the transport. Unluckily Christmas comforts not available. Very fine in morning, then misty, cold, frost. 

Christmas day, 1914 was a day to remember. We just had arrived in Belgium and spent the day digging support trenches. On pay parade the same day, we received five francs which most of us spent on vin blanc at two francs per bottle, though some brought champagne at five francs. It must have been when we reached Blaringhem, A.F. Troce #1520 threw his rifle into a pond. Later he retrieved it. This was at Blaringhem. 

W.J. Popey
Letter from the collection of PPCLI Archives

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


On tuesday, December 22nd, 1914 at 1030 hours, another cold and rainy day, the PPCLI marched back into Le Havre to draw ammunition, equipment and rations in anticipation of their move to the front. 

The Regiment then moved to Gare des Marchandises where a 48 truck train, typical French box cars, took them to the front. Once their horses and transport were loaded, only 25 cars remained to accommodate the officers and men. With roughly 40 men in each car, there was little room to move and some soldiers had to stand because there was not enough seating. As one veteran noted, “Some promising friendships were strained by this arrangement.” Despite the physical discomfort the Regiment was in high spirits, happy to be moving up to the front lines at last. Almost twenty four hours later they arrived at their destination arriving at Arques in French Flanders at 2140 hours on December 23rd. They unloaded dragging animals, vehicles and equipment along muddy tracks to get them clear of the train. The work parties performed well, but they didn't finish unloading until after midnight.

War Diary entry:

Tues, Dec 22, 1914 Havre, France

22.XII.14 HAVRE Battalion Route March from 10.30 a.m. to 12.45 p.m. Completed equipment from Ordnance. Ration parties left camp at 4.40 p.m. Remainder of Battalion at 5.40 pm. Reached point 3, GARE DES MARCHANDISES at 7 p.m. Men in tearing spirits. The whole Battalion had to entrain in one train of 48 trucks. Officers 1, Men 24, Horses 10, VEHICLES 13. Very tight fit, some of the men being unable to sit down. Fatigue parties worked very well. Battalion left at schedule time 11.19 p.m. Showery. Appendix II. Orders for railway journey. 

Wed., Dec 23, 1914 Troop Train Havre to St. Omer, France

23.XII.14  On train en route to St. OMER. Reached ABBEVILLE 12.30 p.m. Journey would have been much easier if we had been informed where halts were to be made and for how long. 
Reached St. OMER 8.50 p.m. Received order to proceed to ARQUES and to detrain there. Reached ARQUES at 9.40 p.m. Detrainment completed by 12.30 a.m. (24th). 
The tracks for the vehicles were very bad & greatly retarded both the entrainment and detrainment of the Battalion. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014


Conditions at Morn Hill had been as unpleasant as Salisbury Plain and the weather had quite possibly been worse. It was cold, extremely wet and strong winds frequently lifted tent pegs from the saturated soil  collapsing canvas tents. Constant rain quickly turned unpaved roads and paths into muddy tracks. Soldiers cooked their rations over open fires behind improvised windbreaks. Each soldier received a daily ration comprised of a pound of bread, a pound of meat or bacon and a pound of vegetables. Soldiers had limited access to hot water and bathing facilities, and seldom had the opportunity to dry their clothes and equipment. 

Hamilton Gault spent the weeks at Morn Hill ensuring the Regiment's weapons and stores were ready for war as well as continually pushing for better conditions for the men. Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar kept the Regiment busy with preparations and training, with special emphasis placed on weapons training. Owing to Farquhar's great negotiating skills, the PPCLI exchanged their Canadian Ross rifles for British Lee Enfields and were ready for immediate deployment. 

On Sunday, December 20th, 1914, after several false starts and numerous changes to the Regiment's notice to move, 27 officers and 956 other ranks marched away from their camp at Morn Hill. Supported by 25 vehicles, 82 horses, 2 motorcycles and 10 bicycles the Regiment departed for the docks at Southampton. The battalion was third in the order of march, following the 2nd Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry. The Regiment arrived in Southampton at 1640 hours and proceeded to Berth 46 to embark on the SS Cardiganshire. The Cardiganshire departed in fine weather for France at 1900 hours, moving into the Solent under a destroyer escort with its lights blacked out.

SS Cardiganshire

Captain Agar Adamson, to his great disappointment, was not with the battalion but was left behind with a small detachment of NCOs to train replacements. Neither were Talbot Papineau or Charlie Stewart who were recovering from a freak incident earlier in the month. On the night of December 3rd, Papineau and Stewart escaped with their lives when their tent went up in flames. Both men suffered severe burns. In a letter to his mother, Papineau explained, "I was sound asleep. Charlie came in about eleven o'clock. He smoked a cigarette and went to sleep. Since he and his side of the tent were more severely burned, it is probable his cigarette or a candle started it."  Although Stewart's burns were considered life threatening in the following days, both officers eventually recovered fully and joined the Regiment in France. 

The voyage across the English Channel was uneventful. SS Cardiganshire arrived at Le Havre at 0500 hours on Monday December 21st 1914 and, after a lengthy delay, docked at 1325 hours. Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry disembarked immediately and became the first Canadian fighting unit to arrive in France during the First World War. The Regiment left the docks at 1500 hours and marched through rain showers to Camp #2 outside of Le Havre, arriving at 1730 hours for an overnight stay. The battalion transport followed later, arriving at 2015 hours.

It was four long, cold, miserable months from their departure in Ottawa on that hot August day to the Regiment's arrival in France. In spite of the uninviting environment at the transit camp in Le Havre,  morale among the men was as high as the day they left home. 

I was in that gallant band of brothers affectionately know as the Pats who set out from Morn Hill Camp, Winchester on that bleak day of December 1914 enroute to Southampton and Le Havre, France. It was one of many unforgettable incidents in the glorious history of the Battalion. 

W. H. Roffey
Letter from the collection of PPCLI Regimental Archives