Saturday, 28 February 2015


The German Army with the advantage of high ground, dry trenches and more advanced technology was an intimidating enemy. Their effective use of snipers was particularly demoralizing. There were 20,000 telescopic sights in service in the German Army when the Regiment began fighting near St. Eloi. Each German company possessed up to six sniper rifles, issued to well trained NCOs to ensure they were properly used and maintained. German snipers operated in pairs with one man shooting and one man spotting. They shot from carefully concealed loopholes in the German trenches, from hidden positions in no man’s land, and from positions taken after they'd infiltrated the Allied lines. In contrast, there was no formal sniper organization in the British Army. 

....Nothing appeared visible on the German front. Nothing moved or stirred. There was nothing to be seen but an implacable line of sandbags and earth. Yet the bullets came in showers and with deadly exactitude. 

No puff of smoke, no whiff of any sort, revealed from whence they came. What manner of fighting was this? A hidden enemy contriving to spew death without revealing himself? Bringing a new sense of unreality to men who had so often won victory in practice shooting against the champions of the world; and who had been ready at any time to stake their lives upon their skill against any champion? 

….Here, however, all traditions were set at naught. There was something stealthy and horrible about it. There was nothing to be seen to shoot at in reprisal - yet the enemy's bullets now came through that single bull's eye - slender as it was - in showers, seemingly in cynical boastfulness, to show the world what Germany had thrust up its brutal sleeve for the world's undoing! And the clever Canadians, crack shots as they were, were held helpless!"

Quoted from the book, "Mopping Up", written by Lieutenant Jack Monroe PPCLI

James Murdoch Christie
1907-1908 Keele Expedition 
Both Hamilton Gault and Colonel Farquhar had nearly fallen victim to snipers’ bullets. With casualties mounting and no escape from the constant sniping day and night, Colonel Farquhar devised a plan to rally against the enemy’s expert shooters. Farquhar ordered Scout officer Lieutenant W.G. Colquhoun, an experienced militia man, to muster a section of skilled hunters and marksmen to form an elite sniping unit. Under the command of “Shorty”  Colquhoun and Corporal J.M. Christie, an experienced hunter and wilderness guide, the sniper section was swiftly assembled and expertly trained. A rugged soldier, Christie was over 40 years old when he enlisted with the Patricias. He was legendary for surviving an encounter with a Grizzly which had nearly swiped off the entire left side of his head. He then killed the bear with his gun and trudged five days back to civilization for help. Having spent his life in the bush, he was reputed to have exceptional observational skills and proved to be an excellent mentor for the snipers. They were immediately given independence to use their instincts on the battlefield and to fight with their own weapons. The results were remarkable with seventeen enemy shot during their first 48 hour tour near the Mound. This was the inception of the PPCLI sniping tradition which is proudly upheld in the serving Regiment today.

Lieutenant "Shorty" Colquhoun
Shelley Farm, February 1915
Determined to match the enemy's aggression, Farquhar came up with another strategy to take the Germans by surprise. The Germans facing the Mound were digging a fire trench not twenty yards away from the Patricias' position. Farquhar received permission to deliver a direct attack against the enemy trench. On February 27/28th, 1915 the Patricias carried out the first of what would become the infamous Canadian trench raids as well as the first engagement by Canadians on European soil. This offensive action was a huge boost in morale for the men and Farquhar's innovative leadership influenced Canadian trench warfare throughout the next four years of war.

Described as a "reconnaissance in force", the action began just before midnight on the 27th with the raiders assembled at Shelley Farm. Lieut. Colquhoun had already been out once on a successful reconnaissance and brought back very valuable information. Hamilton Gault and Shorty went out again an hour before midnight crawling out between trenches 21 and 22 across no man’s land to determine the exact locations of the German communication trenches. The bright moon that night made cover nearly impossible. Gault turned to the left, surveyed for some 200 yards then returned to report his findings. Colquhoun explored to the right but never reappeared. The attack was launched at 4:30 just before dawn.

War Diary Entry:

Sun, Feb 28, 1915 ST ELOI, BELGIUM
4.30 a.m. 28.2.15.
No 4 Coy together with Snipers and bomb throwers (under (T.M.) Lieut. PAPINEAU) attacked & captured German Sap opposite trench 21. Lieut. (C.E.) CRABBE led the attack. The Sap was demolished & the trench parapet knocked in. The coy withdrew at daybreak. Lieut. (W.G.) COLQUHOUN who had previously gone out to make reconnaissance never returned. Casualties. 1 officer missing (*) 2 officers wounded (@). Other ranks 5 killed 7 wounded. 2 missing. Appendix XIII: Sketch of German trenches near ST ELOI, Appendix XIV: Short account of operation. & Appendix XV: Telegrams of Congratulation

(*) Lieut. COLQUHOUN

Appendix XIV: 

Attack on German Sap 28.2.15.

1. The attack was undertaken with a view to giving a setback to the enemy who, from the sap opposite trenches 20 & 21 had become very aggressive & was doing considerable damage to 21 with bombs. etc.
2. No 4 Coy was detailed for the attack & organized as follows: 3 snipers under Cpl. ROSS. (D. 148) - Lieut (C.E.) CRABBE - 3 bomb throwers under Lieut (T.M.) PAPINEAU - remainder of snipers - 1 Platoon of No 4 Coy under Sergt PATTERSON (S.V. 1503) - 1 Platoon No. 4 in support - 1 Platoon No 4 with shovels to be ready as soon as trench was captured to demolish the parapet. - 1 Platoon in Reserve. 
3. The force was led by Cpl ROSS from SHELLEY Fm along hedge in front of new 21 to trench 22, thence to left end of trench 21 which was selected as jumping off point. From this point to the nearest point of German Sap was about 15 yards. The attackers crossed this without difficulty and entered the Sap. Cpl Ross was killed immediately on entering the Sap. Lieut CRABBE then led the Coy down the trench whilst Lieut PAPINEAU ran down the outside of the parapet throwing bombs into the trench. Lieut CRABBE continued down the trench until brought up against a barrier behind which Germans had collected: at this point all rifles except one of the party with Lieut CRABBE were out of action. 
In the meantime Sgt. Pattersons platoon occupied the rear face of sap to guard against counterattack. Sgt. Major Lloyd (C. 1501) & 1 platoon attacked & demolished the parapet for about 30 yds. 
After some 20 minutes occupation of the trench combined with work in demolishing the parapet, orders were given for the attackers to withdraw. 
The withdrawal was successfully carried out though daylight was rapidly appearing. 
4. The attack was carried out with considerable dash notwithstanding the fact that the men had been for six weeks employed in trenches under not very favourable conditions. 
The attack was gallantly led by Lieut CRABBE who was well supported by Corpl. NOURSE (C.B. 172) and the snipers and by Lieut. PAPINEAU & the bomb throwers. 
5. Major HAMILTON GAULT and Lieut (W.G.) COLQUHOUN had previously carried out a reconnaissance in the neighbourhood of the German sap, and brought back valuable information regarding the enemy’s trenches. Lieut COLQUHOUN went out a second time but never returned. 
6. Casualties. 
Killed. 5 other ranks.
Wounded. Major Gault. Lieut CRABBE and 7 other ranks. 
Missing. Lieut COLQUHOUN and two others. 

Total. 5 Killed. 9 wounded & 2 missing. 

Original diagram of the German defences at St. Eloi based on aerial reconnaissance. It was prepared on 26 February 1915 and was published in the PPCLI War Diary.

Appendix XV. 

1580. Feb’y 28th AAA. I heartily congratulate you and your gallant men on your successful operations this morning. AAA Please express to Lieut Crabbe and the party he led my Great Appreciation of their services x Repeated 2nd Army and 5th Corps. 



Following message from fifth Corps received begins The Corps Commander has great pleasure in transmitting to You the following Message from Second Army Nine Eighteen A.m. AAA Begins The Army Commander wishes You to Express to the P.P.C.L.I. his appreciation of the grand piece of work performed by them this morning ends. 



GENERAL PLUMER wires please give my heartiest Congratulations to the P.P.C.L.I. on their gallant (inserted: and) useful Expoit. 



Well done P.P.C. Congratulations on Your splendid work

GEN’L SNOW. 10.30 A.M.


Twenty Eight Division wires hearty Congratulations. 



Heartiest Congratulations on Success last night.

1st CANADIAN. DIVISION. 10.15. A.m. 


"The Three Muskateers of Princess Patricia's Own" by Samuel Begg 
(Originally published in the London Illustrated News) 

Friday, 27 February 2015


The early days of trench warfare took the Patricia's by surprise. It took them some time to adjust to their new surroundings. So confident were these Canadian men who had conquered the unforgiving conditions of the wilderness back home, they lived off the land, skilled hunters, they learned from the natives, with survival skills ranked them among the elite fighters but they could never have envisioned war being fought under these conditions and were stunned at the distance and accuracy of the German artillery and fire power. It took them some time to understand how to fight this insane idea of warfare and in the first weeks they spent much of their time in defensive mindset under cover until they could gain confidence to fight against this kind of enemy that none had ever experienced before.  They were outranked by the German weapons in which the telescopic capability and construction was well ahead of its times. Snipers with the keenest of eyes needed to compete with the German capabilities…..Conditions were more primitive than in any war preceding in modern times. 

Quoted from the book, "Mopping Up", written by Lieutenant Jack Monroe PPCLI

By late February, the relentless hardships were wearing on the men. The steady loss of soldiers killed, wounded and otherwise disabled from sickness and exposure was a worrisome problem not only for the Patricias but throughout the Allied army.

The war, as designed by German General Staff, was to have been won by now but the German Commander’s Schlieffen Plan failed. A swift triumph in France followed by an aggressive campaign on the Russian front would have put an early end to the war. However, the French retreated and fortified, denying the Germans their decisive battle. Each cautiously and defensively dug into the earth. In preparation for the ultimate breakthrough, complete with cavalry charge, both sides set up temporary strongholds with machine gun nests and screens of barbed wire protection. The advancement of deadly technology contributed to the stalemate on the battlefield and the victorious breakthrough was elusive for both sides. No one could have predicted how deeply settled they would become in a kind of terrifying warfare no one had ever seen before. After the shocking losses of the first several months of battle, both sides were that much more determined to vindicate their fallen comrades and fight stubbornly for their honour at an impossible cost. “I don’t know what is to be done." said Lord Kitchener, the British War Secretary, in early 1915, "This isn't war."

 c1915 PPCLI Trench; PPCLI Museum and Archives P30(300)-1
With the expectation of a short-lived conflict and minimal casualties, nobody had given much thought to the issue of reinforcements and in fact there was no system in place at all in the winter of 1915 for bringing in fresh troops. Yet in only six weeks of warfare the situation was already becoming critical for the Patricias. Entrenched in a very difficult sector, the losses were devastating with seventy casualties, including five officers. Even worse were the crippling numbers of sick soldiers out of the line. When Agar Adamson arrived with his draft the Regiment was close to four hundred men under strength. The arrival of the draft brought the numbers up to 700 but this had completely depleted the reserves. Any subsequent drafts of Canadian troops would be distributed to the 1st Canadian Division and new battalions of men were being reserved for a 2nd Division. The Regiment was just able to sustain itself with small drafts of men cleverly procured from a variety of sources throughout the winter.

Col Farquhar showed initiative by devising a system of replacing officers that would soon become Regimental tradition. Against convention, he began recommending men from the ranks for commissions within their own unit. Five such men were commissioned in January and February, three of whom rose to field rank and were decorated. Uniquely, hardly an officer who had served with the Regiment had served in the field with any other unit than the Patricias and in most cases they had risen from the ranks.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


Adamson understood the conditions he would be facing on the front line and was preparing himself for the trials ahead. When he arrived in France with his draft of reinforcements, the 27th Division was still occupying the trench systems east of St. Eloi and engaged in the exhausting task of holding a dominant land feature dubbed "The Mound". Rising up 20 feet high and 70 feet long on the western side of the road from St. Eloi to Warnton, the clay mound presented one of the few opportunities for the Division to control high ground. As such it was heavily shelled and became increasingly difficult to hold. 

Portrait of Agar Adamson 
The trench systems north and east of St. Eloi extended from the front of the Mound. Ralph Hodder-Williams describes the area in his history of the Regiment, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry 1914-1919: 

"Across this road two trenches, 19 and 20, continued the line in a north-easterly direction; thence the line bent back sharply in front of Shelley Farm through trenches 21, 22 and 23, to conform to the German position, which paralleled the St. Eloi - Hollebeke road with its front line north, and the main system immediately south, of this road. The two lines were extremely close at this curve, and the interest of the Germans in the Mound, from which they would be able to overlook the whole southern defences of Ypres, made an early struggle for its possession certain. The outlook was not encouraging. The Germans, as was proved later, were fairly well off for trenches, but the condition of the British line here was even worse than on the right. The defences were very inadequate - low, untraversed, not even bullet-proof. Trenches 19 and 21 were particularly bad, in many places filled above the knee with slush and filth; their garrisons had to occupy such dry spots as they could find by cutting one-man recesses into the parapet. Buried in the ditches lay French, German and British dead, and there were many corpses protruding from the crumbling parapet. Movement by day was impossible, as the German snipers commanded the whole area from high ground beyond trench 22…. The whole position east of St. Eloi was plainly insecure.” 

Adamson's arrival at the front would coincide with the Regiment's most aggressive action to date. As he became immersed in the appalling conditions of trench life, Agar's letters to Mabel transitioned from jovial correspondence to a powerful chronicle of the Canadian experience in the Great War.   

Portrait of Agar Adamson 
Flanders, 24th Feb. 1915.

My dear Mabel,

I am censoring my own letters and I am therefore in honour bound not to break the rule about places, numbers, etc., so I must refrain from saying so. We left Rouen at 6.p.m. and arrived at the "Racehead", N. SodMoring yesterday 10 a.m. which means, as far as the Railway at present goes to the front, we then marched 6 miles in a fog, no rain, the roads and mid, notwithstanding every effort at draining are indescribable, worse than the worst at Salisbury. We heard the artillery all the way up on the march in the distance. The journey in the train which was a quick one, was very comfortable - 3 of us in a 1st class carriage, one sleeping on the floor. We had our Wolsey valises with us.

It was a bit cold in the early morning and very draughty. We arrived here (Gray knows its name) and found the Regiment had come out of the trenches the night before for 6 days rest. Their casualties had been small; 4 killed, 4 wounded, but they were in the eastern trenches of the line. Next time it is our turn for the worst ones. Everything is a case of take turns at the soft and the hard.

.... The Regiment is full of buck and very cheerful the men are looking splendid. No 2 is still the strongest Company. The men seemed very glad to see me, as I went to see them. The draft has now been split up with the different companies and the old lot will soon knock them into shape. The officer of each Co. mess together in their billets and some of them do themselves very well; Pelly and Ward particularly, as they get all kinds of things sent them from home. Although the rations seem to be quite good. When the Regiment came out of the trenches Niven had got hold of a brougham and put 4 horses into it, two postillions riding, two men on the box with German helmets and drawn swords, tow men standing up behind with fixed bayonets and inside a tired man togged up as a German. The servants and grooms acted as outriders. They drove in the middle of the Regiment and created a great sensation. General Snow turned out with all his staff and was much amused. The men told the population that it was the Kaiser inside and all the children and old women hissed him.

... All the officers are looking very fit, except Minchin who I think will now go to the Flying Corps. He is not strong enough for this work. Ward and Pelly who I thought might waste are better and stronger than ever they were. McKinery is at Tidworth. He writes that James is leaving in a few days. Gault is doing wonderful work and the men adore him.

....The trenches we are to fill on the next go are bad ones I hear and only 30 yards from the Prussian Guards, who have sapped to within 18 yards. I am taking Captain Carr who has been in command of No. 2 for some time with me, as he has been in there before and the whole game will be new to me. The 30 and 18 yards are actual facts, although it is hard to believe. The only thing I cannot understand is how any human being can stay awake for 48 hours, but I will have to find this out by experience and tell you all about it, when it is over.

Goodbye old girl, thank you for your very nice letter. Don't worry about me. Lots of hardships are due me after so many years of undeserved comforts and there are a great many men and officers here who must find it harder to stand than I will and who have been at it for nearly two months. Ever thine,


St. Omer, 25th Feb. 1915

My dear Mabel, 

... I have taken over No. 2 Company which is now 145 strong, the strongest in the Regiment still. Martinette and the other two risen from the ranks, went to England today on 6 days to buy kit. 

Captain Carr's blistered heel has now festered and he will not be able to go into the trenches this time, so they have given me Donald Cameron of No 3 Coy., a very nice chap, and unless the 6 officers I left at Rouen who up, the two of us will have to handle the Company alone in the trenches. 

This afternoon we did some wire entanglements and the men thoroughly understood it. We also went through instructions (the N.C.O.s and officers) in bomb throwing. You hold the bomb (which has a handle and looks like a Queen Anne milk jug) in your left hand, pressing the ignition button with your right hand, passing the bomb to your right hand and then throwing it. It has to be done very quickly, as it goes off in 6 seconds after the button is pressed and burst in a circle, bursting backwards as far as forwards. 30 yards is a good throw. We also have special pistols that throw up flares. It has been raining all day. I also had instructions in the most useful working of the periscope. It is a very cover double mirror reflecting instrument, but it is impossible to judge the distance the object you in the bottom, is away. Our big guns are quite close to us and wonderfully concealed. The 16-pounders are further away and are dug-in and are most difficult to see. The firing keeps up all day and at times much more rapid than at others. Snowing hard since 5 p.m. and very strong moon. 

Monday, 16 February 2015


The Patricias were settling into the gruelling routine of trench life. During the day, their time was spent with heads down, cleaning their weapons and repairing any damage to the trenches from the previous night's shelling. When the heavy work was done the men would pass the time delousing, writing letters or sleeping. 

The officers spent their days inspiring the men, censoring the letters and managing inquiries from runners in the communication trenches. Ammunition stores had to be counted daily and casualty reports from the night before were reported. Writing letters of condolences became a regular part of the officer's routine. 

Once darkness fell, soldiers prepared for the continuous and nerve wracking threat of shelling. Some nights were quiet, waiting and watching for the enemy, but the men were always vigilant for rifle fire and sniper's bullets. They learned early on not to look out over the parapet. At this point in the war the Canadian's role was a defensive one. Orders from General Alderson were to "hold the front trenches at all costs"but heavy shelling and sharp shooting German snipers were taking their toll.

Trenches 1915; Arthur McMahon, Brunet, Milne, McCormick, Jones;
Courtesy of PPCLI Museum and Archives; P30(71)-1

Agar Adamson was eager to abandon the comforts of England and join in the hardships the other Patricias had been enduring for weeks. Talbot Papineau and Charles Stewart, both having recovered from their burn wounds, had already made their way back to the Regiment earlier in the month. Adamson was the last of the Originals to arrive in France. 

Monday night. February 15, 1915

My dear Mabel,

Kindly keep the enclosed receipt.

I got my sailing orders tonight about 5. and wired you. Only Martin a nice youngster from B.C., son of Justice Martin of B.C., is going with me.

The King and General Campbell were here today. General C. made a nice speech saying he heard from General French that our Regiment was one of the best in France. Just after James had been going for us and particularly me. He has got back to his old ways again.

Goodbye old girl. I will keep you posted on my movements. Your loving boy,


P.S. Will you kindly have the two knives engraved P.P.C.L.I and send one each to Rodney and Anthony. Will you please find out from the Grays, Cornish's address and send the enclosed letter to him.

Another P.S. I am sending up tomorrow a white canvas kit bag with a saddle in it, a fat brown kit bag containing things I shall not want. It is locked, key enclosed. A long brown tired kit bag containing my camp bed, table and fold up chair.

It is now 12 o'clock and I have been sent for to see Colonel James about a nominal roll of the draft which he had this morning. We had three different kit inspections today,

I got some beautiful lined mitts from the British today for the whole draft.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015


On February 3rd the Regiment marched to a new area east of St. Eloi and took over the trenches from the York and Lancaster Regiment. They moved headquarters from the heavily shelled and badly damaged Voormezeele to Shelley Farm. 

Hamilton Gault wrote to his friend Percival Campbell, "The d--d old Huns found our H.Q. the day before yesterday - we thought it was too well hidden behind a wood for that! - and put 4 or 5 shells through. It was quite unnecessary of them to do this for the house had been barely touched before and we were extremely comfortably settled, Fanny (Farquhar), Buller and I in one room on mattresses with a table and chairs; our servants in another; the trench guides in a third; and the H.Q. men in the cellars". 

After each few days in the trenches the men were relieved and marched 3 km back to Dickebusch or on to Heksken, a small town approximately 12km from the front for rest. The bitter weather continued and the trenches, badly damaged from the driving rain, again were positioned on low ground. Lt Col Farquhar noted the unsanitary conditions with the bodies of french soldiers strewn across the rear ground. The trenches were wet and unsafe with too many dugouts against the thinned parapets, which on some had crumbled away completely. Wherever possible the men worked to drain and repair their defences but success was limited. 

Map of St. Eloi trench system, 1915 (click to enlarge) 

Map of St. Eloi and Voormezeele Region, 1915 (click to enlarge) 

Back on Salisbury Plain at the Reinforcement Depot at Tidworth, Agar Adamson was desperately trying to join the Regiment in Belgium. Much to his dismay, he had been ordered to stay behind to train a draft of 500 men from Canada. Unfortunately, he had made an enemy of the one man who could send him there, his Commanding Officer, Colonel James. James was an old school disciplinarian and made Adamson's life on the Plain miserable. 

In spite of Farquhar's request to have Adamson brought to the front and command the new draft, James put his foot down and refused to allow him to go. We know from a comment of Mabel's that Col James and General Alderson were "very bitter" about the glamour and mystique attached to the PPCLI and seemed to take delight in dismantling the unit. When the new draft had arrived in January, James, with imperious authority, had them transferred over to a group of general Canadian reinforcements. Adamson himself was separated from the Regiment and placed with other surplus Canadian officers. He was furious. He wrote to Mabel, "This is the last straw. I have written and protested, but James wrote back that any suggestion from me is out of order." 

Adamson send an urgent message to Farquhar who returned immediately to sort out the situation with the top brass at the War Office. James had denied Farquhar's request to send him to London to meet with Farquhar so Adamson disguised and smuggled his most trusted NCO, Sergeant A.B. Cork, out of camp and sent him to London with a long memo delivered to Farquhar by Mabel herself. Thanks to Farquhar's efforts the situation was resolved favourably for Adamson and the draft. 

Tuesday, February 9th, 1915.

My dear Mabel,

The C.O. saw James yesterday but could get no satisfaction out of him, so we motored to Salisbury and saw the General of the Southern Command, net result being that all my actions, telegrams and official letters were upheld and approved of. We are to be made (are being made today) a separate and complete unit of our own, self-contained with Barracks, Officers' Mess, Store Rooms, Orderly Rooms, etc., all our own, that we are not to be removed from Tidworth, all the other Canadians are going to Lark Hill in huts in the mud very shortly. The C.O. tried to get us put directly under the Southern Command and free from James. This he could not work, but is seeing the War Office today and hopes to be able to arrange it. We don't move for 10 days.

I am to take three of the new officers to London very soon to show them how to buy kit and get 3 days leave.

I am to command the draft of 130 men and 2 officers to pick my own officers, am 2nd in Command of the 500 men here and have to re-organize these tomorrow into 2 companies, appoint a Quartermaster, Adjutant, Paymaster, etc., etc.

The C.O. and I got back from Salisbury at 7:30 last night. He gave a "Talk on the war” to all Roger's officers, plus the 14 P.P.C.L.I. He then took each officer one by one and looked him over alone forming his own opinion; this took till 1 in the morning. He slept in a bunk in my room, it was past two when we had thrashed out how he would like the new offices planned. At 7 this morning he inspected the 500 men, talking to each. He came back to my room, wrote two very important letters, had breakfast and caught the 9:30 train.

He inspected the old lot left with me yesterday, the men all thought he was in France. When he came on parade the men gave him 3 great cheers. James was so angry he ordered all the men put under arrest (afterwards cancelled).

The C.O. shook hands with every one of my men and had a word to say to each. If we once can get out of James clutches everything will go beautifully.

I feel a positive wreck this morning, a sort of reaction I suppose after the strain of the last two weeks. It is difficult to always do the right thing when you have a little beast like James trying to catch you up at every turn. If it had only been a personal affair it would have been quite different, but a great part of the welfare of the Regiment was at stake.

Goodbye old girl, thank you for a very nice letter.


Members of the 500 draft, Tidworth, January 1915