Wednesday, 30 September 2015


The Patricias were given the respite they needed over the summer of 1915 with the most peaceful period of the war on the Western Front. The priority now was on re-establishing the Regiment. After the devastating losses in May 1915 many feared the Regiment would be disbanded. 

Major Raymond Pelly, returned from sick leave on May 18th, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and took over command from Lieutenant Niven. Pelly was the third member of the Governor General's staff to command the Patricia's. He now faced a critical situation. If the Regiment was to survive there would need to be a reliable and steady source of reinforcements. 

When the Regiment was founded it was made clear to Hamilton Gault and Francis Farquhar there would be no provision from the Canadian Government for reinforcements for PPCLI. As a privately raised regiment the Patricias were responsible for acquiring their own replacements for casualties. Prime Minister Borden was not particularly interested in depleting his own supply of men needed for the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

At the outset, the issue of reinforcements wasn't of great concern. The common sentiment was that the war would last no more than a few months. They certainly hadn't anticipated the horror that awaited them. With heavy losses throughout the winter and spring of 1915 though, came a constant anxiety about the Regiment's future. At times, small drafts of men from various Canadian sources had been brought in to help with numbers but they had been difficult to obtain and it was unlikely they would receive enough support from the Canadian government to sustain the Regiment. The Canadian Divisions were also in dire need of additional troops as casualties exceeded six thousand after the Second Battle of Ypres.

The initial response in Canada to the losses at Ypres was a dramatic surge of patriotism. Talbot Papineau wrote,  "...what a glorious history they will have made for Canada. These may be the birth pangs of our nationality." A striking change in the style of recruiting posters appeared, evolving from the Imperial Lion of 1914 to the posters of the summer of 1915 appealing to Canadian pride. The primary concern for the Canadian government now was to bring in enough new recruits to maintain the First Division at full strength and prepare a third division for deployment.

Canadian Recruiting Poster 1914 
Canadian Recruiting Poster 1915 

Lt. Col. Pelly's objective during the summer of 1915 was to reorganize the battalion. Many of the lightly wounded had been able to return to the Regiment at the end of May and with an additional 450 soldiers brought in from other Canadian battalions in England the Patricias were becoming a robust unit again. Meanwhile, an important idea had been developing with some of Hamilton Gault's friends from Montreal to resolve the Regiment's critical problem of reinforcements.

Three prominent Montreal businessmen, all alumni of McGill University, George C. McDonald, George Selkirk Currie and Percival Molson, drafted a unique proposal for Minister of Militia and Defence, Sir Sam Hughes. Contrived in April 1915, the proposal detailed a plan to recruit an infantry company from university men and their friends specifically with the goal of reinforcing the Patricias. The idea was approved. The Student's Union at McGill became the main mobilization centre and, as such, the 'University Companies PPCLI Reinforcements' were often referred to as the 'McGill Companies'. Universities from across Canada, however, answered the call and supported the initiative with undergraduates, graduates and even professors. By July 1915 the first of the University Companies arrived in France and joined the Patricias at rest in the quiet sector of Armentieres. With another company arriving shortly after, the Regiment was back up to full strength by the first of September. The response to join was so enthusiastic that by October 1916 over 1300 men in six consecutive companies had joined the Regiment. This brilliant scheme had saved the Regiment from collapse. 

2nd University Company C.E.F. Reinforcements P.P.C.L.I. (Click to enlarge) 

P30(138.1)-1 Armentiers (1915) Courtesy of PPCLI Museum and Archives

Sunday, 6 September 2015


"Lousy, lousy; awfully, frightened lousy!
I want to go over the sea
Where Allemand can't get me!
The Johnsons and whiz-bangs, they whistle and roar
I don't want to go to the trench any more
Oh my! I don't want to die!
I want to go home!"

This famous First World War trench song has been attributed to an anonymous author but in Jack Munroes' book, "Mopping Up", he identifies the song writer as Corporal Cooper of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. It was written on January 19th, 1915 and first sung at a soldiers' concert in a barn loft 200 yards from Westoutre.

According to Munroe, the troops sang this song with fervour as they marched into the line at Bellewaerde Ridge on May 7th, 1915 for the climax of the Second Battle of Ypres. 

The quiet summer of 1915 allowed Patricias to recover and reorganize in preparation for the inevitable rigours of battle to come. The bloody battle of May 8th, 1915 had been a test of courage and dedication during which the Patricias forged a legacy of heroics in their stand against the enemy. The German Army's tremendous effort to break through to Ypres and charge ahead to Calais brought the heaviest barrage ever recorded in history to that date. The remnants of men who'd survived the artillery assault managed to hold off the enemy charge with mostly just rifle fire. The Patricias prevailed with their incredible feat of bravery but the last of the Originals had been thoroughly shattered when the Germans finally retreated late that afternoon. The Second Battle of Ypres had come to an end.

Of the 650 soldiers who had entered the trenches on May 6th /7th, only four officers and 150 N.C.O.'s and men staggered off the position and withdrew under Lieutenant Hugh Niven. The official report records PPCLI casualties at 392. Four officers were killed or missing and six were wounded. Of the N.C.O.'s and other ranks 108 were killed, 197 wounded and 77 were listed as missing and presumed dead.

P30(577)-1 PPCLI Graves Ypres Salient May 9, 1915.
Courtesy of PPCLI Museum and Archives 

Hamilton Gault had taken over command of the Regiment for the battle at Bellewaerde Ridge after Colonel Buller had been shot in the right eye on May 5th. Gault, however, was blown off his feet by a shell burst early in the battle on the 8th. He relinquished command to Agar Adamson, the senior captain, for the remainder of the battle. In spite of his grave wounds to the thigh, Gault had refused to leave and lay all day, barely conscious, at the bottom of a trench with his feet on a dead man, constantly buried in mud and dirt by shells as described by Adamson.

"I heard Agar Adamson had been hit and Hammie was badly hit and only semi-conscious for the rest of the day. I attended to him frequently and got him propped up by doubling a dead soldier up so he was length wise in the trench. I kept wetting his lips from my water bottle but his eyes were turned right back into his head and only the whites of his eyes visible. The afternoon after a heavy attack by infantry, Hammie whispered to me 'Next time they come on, stand me up, face me the right way and give me my revolver'. THAT IS THE PPCLI SPIRIT that lives on to this day."

H.W. Niven
Letter from PPCLI Museum and Archives

According to legend, at some point in the afternoon a message arrived from Headquarters asking how long the Patricias could hang on. Gault, who was already wounded, reportedly sent the reply, "Til the last gun is fired and the last man is gone". 

Gault was finally removed to the dressing station at nightfall where the gravity of his wounds were determined and he was sent back to the hospital in England. Lance Corporal Leonard Heddick, a medical orderly, wrote to his parents about Gault's conduct:

"I never saw his equal for grit....He lay all day with his body torn and bleeding, and it was only at night when the stretcher bearers could approach the trench to get out the wounded that he was carried away, and then he went last, absolutely refusing to go before the worst of the other cases had been taken. He was cheerful and grinning all over when we got him in our dressing station, and kept on grinning when we pulled the blood-soaked and ragged edge of his coat and trousers and underclothing out of his torn and lacerated flesh wounds - into which, by the way, you could stick your fist. It will be months before he will be back again."

Adamson himself had sustained a painful wound to the shoulder during the battle. Even with the use of just one arm he never wavered in his determined leadership, encouraging the men with his self assurance and good cheer. He was awarded the DSO for conspicuous bravery. When at last darkness came he handed over command to Lieutenant Niven, Gault's Adjutant, and wearily made his way to the dressing station.  Gault sent Niven a note expressing his regret at having to leave him to carry on without him. Niven reflected later, "That was the kind of soldier he was, always thinking of others...his spirit invaded every man's soul that day."

The original Ric-A-Dam-Doo
Talbot Papineau had also demonstrated tremendous courage that day. The only unwounded officer of the battalion, he tirelessly rushed up and down the trench throughout the day rallying the men and helping in every way possible in the effort to hold the line. One of his most notorious contributions during the battle on May 8th was to rescue the treasured Regimental colours. The colours were placed  in battalion headquarters, a dugout originally constructed for the gunners, but that dugout was completely destroyed. Papineau came upon the colours by chance, "Our second line had become our front line", he wrote. "I found the colours lying on the parados. I wrote a note to Hugh Niven, then the senior officer remaining, asking him what I should do with them. The note was handed down the trench hand to hand and in a few moments I had his reply telling me to take charge of them. Shortly after this the colours were hit by shrapnel and a hole about 2"square made in them."

Although all the units of the 80th Brigade suffered enormous losses during the Second Battle of Ypres, the Patricias had the distinction of the longest casualty list in the Division for the period between April 22nd and May 17th with 700 of all ranks killed, wounded or missing in action. 

A letter to Adamson from the regimental surgeon, C.B. Keenan lamented,  "There is no Regiment left, only a few rifles. I do not know what the future holds for us."

 A group of PPCLI Originals after Bellewaerde Ridge, now referred to as the Battle of Frezenberg, May 1915. Courtesy of PPCLI Museum and Archives 

Decorations awarded in the Regiment in connection with the Second Battle of Ypres: 

The Distinguished Service Order : Lt.-Col. H. C. Buller ; Capt. Agar Adamson. 

The Military Cross: Lieuts. H. W. Niven (Adjutant),  D. A. Clarke and G. C. Carvell (Transport Officer). 

The Distinguished Conduct Medal : C.S.M. G. L. McDonnell (Div. H.Q. Transport); Sgts. W. Jordan, S. Larkin (Bn. Transport), J. M. Macdonald and L. Scott; Cpls. E. Bowler, J. M. Christie, H. McKenzie and B. Stevens ; L/Cpl. A. G. Pearson ; Ptes. G. Bronquest, J. Bushby and G. Inkster. 

The Russian Order of St. Anne: Major A. H. Gault, D.S.O. 

The French Croix de Guerre : Cpl. H. McKenzie. 

The Russian Cross of St. George: Pte. J. Bushby. 

Mentioned in Despatches : Lt.-Col. H. C. Buller ; Capt. Agar Adamson ; Lieuts. G. C. Carvell, R. G. Crawford and N. A. Edwards; C.Q.M. Sgts. A. Cordery and S. Godfrey; Sgt. M. Allan ; Ptes. A. S. Fleming and J. M. McAllister.