Birth of a Regiment

 

Birth of a Regiment

This web site will tell the story of the birth of a regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.   The idea of the regiment was developed by two men in 1914 on the eve of war.  Andrew Hamilton Gaultof Montreal came up with the idea, the money and the political clout to give it wings.  Lieutenant Colonel Francis Farquhar,an officer of the Coldstream Guards and Military Secretary to the Governor General took that idea and quickly assembled and trained a battalion ready for war. 

The Patricia’s were assembled and trained separately from the rest of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, recruiting largely British born Canadians who had previous military service. The Regiment was led by British officers and outfitted with British weapons and equipment. Although it was the first Canadian combat unit in action, for most of 1915 the Regiment served as part of a British brigade in a British division.

Through the course of the war this very British regiment was reshaped to become a Canadian military icon. By the end of the war, the Princess Pat’s, as they were affectionately known, became the best known and most celebrated of all Canadian Regiments. In the ranks of the regiment served men from every province and major city. Her officers were now largely Canadian born and many from her ranks had been commissioned to serve as officers in other units.
It is recognized that viewers visiting this site will come with different interests and backgrounds in Canadian and military history. For the most part, the central narrative can be followed under the section title “The Regiment”. Other sections provide background on major battles and supporting themes like military technology and the customs and traditions of the regiment that viewers may wish to explore.  At the bottom of each page there are navigation links to pages that logically follow or precede the page you are viewing. Clicking on any of the images, charts or maps will display them full size.  The site is organized in four major sections:

The Regiment

This section provides a snapshot at four critical times during the war to illustrate how the character of the Regiment evolved. The introduction sets the Canadian stage in 1914 by briefly considering population trends, economic conditions, the government and the army of the day. The picture of a very British regiment emerges from the story of the Original battalion that was formed in Ottawa in August 1914 and landed in France in December. The second snapshot shows the impact of the University Companies by looking closely at the Regiment at the time of the Battle of Mount Sorrel in the summer of 1916. Then the focus shifts to the Regiment after if has begun to feel the impact of the normal reinforcement stream for the Canadian Corps at the time of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Vimy and the bloodbath at Passchendaele in the fall of 1917 were followed by another period of rebuilding. The Regiment was last at full strength in early August 1918 at the opening of the Battles of the Hundred Days – the fourth and final snapshot. Here the focus is primarily on the action at Canal du Nord. The Regiment section concludes with some observations on the end of the war and the decision to retain the Patricia’s in the permanent force.

Battles

The Battles section provides the viewer direct access to more information on five major battles. It is not an attempt to replicate the superb and detailed narrative presented in Ralph Hodder-Williams original regimental history, but rather to provide maps, organization charts and an outline of events to support the main thesis. In due course this section will be developed to provide greater detail on all the major battles of the war.

Background

A summary of the war diary, a review of historical writing and a bibliography are provided for those interested in further research on related topics. Throughout the site, viewers will find links directly to supporting material. In particular, the following sites provide much useful information on the Patricia’s
Canadian Great War Project provides a complete transcription of the regimental war diary. This site also provided much of the initial data on individual soldiers which served as the basis for developing snap shots of the regiment.
Canadian Letters and Images includes a good selection of material related to the PPCLI:
Library and Archives Canada provides an excellent search facility for soldiers of the First World War. Most of the Attestation Documents for the regiment that provide the primary source for the data base appended to this site can be accessed. In addition more fulsome files can be provided where needed for key individuals as has been done for Lt Col Charles Stewart.
The Canadian War Museum Research Centre provides additional material with a broader view of the war.
Walter Draycott was an intelligence NCO and original member of the regiment whose sketches of the front we used to support operations. The website provides interesting samples of his work.

Themes

Those interested in some particular aspect of the story may explore such themes as changing equipment and organization in this section. In particular, the changing nature of the infantry battalion is examined along with major infantry weapons. A comparison of the Ross and Lee Enfield Rifles, the Stokes Mortar and machine guns is provided. In addition, a more detailed look at the development of some of the traditions and practices are presented as background to how the the Regiment sought to establish its unique identity.

Soldiers

The Soldiers section provided vignettes on all Commanding Officers and Victoria Cross Winners. The search page allows viewers to examine the detailed data on 5008 soldiers who served with the Regiment in the period 1914-1919. There are also some notes on the challenges associated with using soldier records. It is anticipated that this section will be expanded with additional vignettes of other soldiers who served with the regiment.

Print Friendly