Monday, 19 October 2015


After a restful month of September the Patricias took over a section of the line in the region of the Somme. Trenches and dugouts wove through the village of Frise with one of the more dangerous parts of the line only 15 feet from the enemy. They understood they would be there indefinitely.

They set up Headquarters in the cellar of one of the houses mostly still intact. Agar Adamson, newly promoted to Major and second in command, described their new surroundings, "For continued discomfort, this is the worst place the Battalion has been in yet, as we cannot take our clothes off at any time, although we sleep in beds made by our Pioneers, we cannot take our boots off, as at any moment, we may be rushed. I fancy that unless we push forward our tour of the trenches will be 30 days." He continued, "The rats are everywhere, even the actual trenches are awful. They devoured all the leather off Martin's haversack in one night. Last night Pelly and I and our artillery Major hardly slept a wink all night on account of our rat insisting upon getting through the cellar door. Boots had no effect. So Pelly, in keeping with his quiet manner, got up and opened the door, and the rat, to show its gratitude, remained quiet for the rest of the night....The water here, is very bad and is condemned by the Sanitary Authorities. The village is full of wells all marked by the French "suspected of having been poisoned by the Huns"

Relatively light but consistent shelling and sniping was a strain on the mens nerves. Steadily rising flood waters from the canal contributed to their distress. They were just one Battalion where there should have been three, defending the most weakly held part of the line. For now the Germans were heavily engaged in battles northward but gas and artillery continued to be a constant threat. They had devised a system where each platoon would bang on a flat iron gong if gas was detected. It was mandatory that every soldier carry two different styles of primitive gas helmets at all times. One was sewn into their oilskin pocket and the other was slung over the shoulder.

Mandatory flannel gas masks issued by the British in 1915 

A tremendous sense of loss still weighed heavily on the old originals. There had been plenty of time for introspection and bitter analysis. In a letter to a friend in Toronto, Adamson reflected, "Ypres was held purely for sentimental reasons. General Smith-Dorrien wanted to fall back on the canal and even if necessary not to hold the town. [General] French insisted upon our remaining in the exposed position, and Smith-Dorrien is in England having been relieved of his command. It is and always will be a question if we did not pay too big a price."

In a letter to her mother, Mabel further emphasized Agar's low spirits,"Agar takes a very pessimistic view. The Government and the 'High Commands' are muddling things so dreadfully. The waste of life and material is awful and most soldiers think they are losing four men to the German's one. It is simply a question of time until you get hit. We trust to pluck and luck, while the Germans trust to science and munitions with able leadership." 

They were also adjusting to the new culture of men in the Regiment while grieving the loss of the old. Even with the reinforcement of the University Companies, the Battalion was short twelve officers. There had been no word from Hamilton Gault at all and only one staff officer from the old lot was still with them. Adamson lamented to Mabel, "I find a great change in the Regiment and the new N.C.O.s of the two McGill Companies are sadly wanting in experience and in some cases may be a positive danger. It is not fair to break them and all we can do is to try them out. I also find a great change along the same lines in the other Regiments of the Brigade. Martin, before we moved from the last place, got No 2 Company together for me to say a few words to and I am afraid I made a bit of a mess of speech making but it was very nice to find all the old men seemed very glad to see one back. They are all very fond of their old officer."

The gloom had settled in at home as well. The devastating impact of months of loss and tragedy was taking its toll. Women in mourning clothes were now a common site on Canadian streets and many chose to wear black out of sympathy for friends who were suffering. Zeppelin raids were killing civilians in London and the British were still reeling from the sinking of the Lusitania which had been torpedoed off the coast of Ireland on May 7th, 1915. This tragedy affected Hamilton Gault's family personally. Marguerite's mother and her brother Chattan's two little girls and their nurse were on the ship and did not survive the sinking. 

Although the calamities of war brought many together, Hamilton and Marguerite's relationship had been irreparably fractured with the events of May 7th and May 8th. Each of their lives had been torn apart on two successive days and neither was in a position to comfort the other. Emotionally, they had been unavailable to each other in their time of greatest need.

In mid-summer, Gault convalesced with Marguerite and her sister at Lydeard House near the town of Taunton. They had been joined by a fellow Patricia, Bruce Bainsmith, also recovering from serious wounds inflicted at Polygon Wood. The charming and handsome Bainsmith attracted the vulnerable Marguerite's affections and on July 24th Gault discovered them in each other's arms. Although Marguerite denied it, Gault was convinced she had been unfaithful. Enraged and in no mood for forgiveness, the marriage was over. The legalities of a divorce would have to be conducted at another time but the scandal had blown wide open with great speculation as to the legitimacy of Gault's accusations. 

There was uncertainty among the Patricias in France as well. By now they had heard of the demise of Gault's marriage which prompted discussions of suspicions and their own feelings of betrayal. They were also unsettled by rumours of change in the composition of the Division with reports of insubordination and poor discipline in the new army up north. Even the Brigadier was not informed as to the changes that were taking place. On October 16th they received orders from the Division and 80th Brigade was suddenly and mysteriously relieved from its position.