Birth of a Regiment

 

Canal du Nord

When the attack of the Canadian Corps across the Canal du Nord opened on September 27th, the Third Division was held back with the intent of passing through when a bridgehead had been established. Following the successful crossing, Lipsett was tasked to secure the Tilloy Hill that dominated both Cambrai to the south and the Sheldt Canal to the east. A railway engine de-railing delayed the departure of the brigade from the assembly area and cost the troops a night’s sleep before battle. At 6:00 pm on the 27th, the Patricia’s began a move forward under cover of darkness and by early the morning were at their assembly point behind the 4th Division. This attack was very different than the short bite and hold actions at Vimy and Passchendaele. Here the battalion was tasked to move forward almost three miles to seize the high ground at Tilloy. The RCR were tasked to secure the jumping off point on the Marcoing Line with the Patricia’s and 49th Battalion passing through to continue the advance. The PPCLI successfully secured the line of the light railway by early afternoon but the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Charlie Stewart had been killed by shell fire early in the attack. He was the last of the Original officers who had been with the battalion at the start of the Hundred Days. Captain James Edgar, a former fireman who had joined the regiment as a private and been commissioned from the ranks assumed command and prepared to continue the attack to the line of the Douai Road. Here, unexpectedly the Patricia’s ran into some old, but still very much intact barbed wire that had been hidden by undergrowth. The battalion suffered badly in the attempt and the attack was thrown back by effective machine gun fire, shelling and gas. At this point only about 300 men remained in the rifle companies. With the 42nd and 49th Battalions taking up the attack, the Patricia’s regrouped behind the line of a light railway. On the afternoon of the 30th, Capt George Little, who had joined with the 5th University Company, came forward from Brigade headquarters with fresh orders and assumed command of the battalion. The Paticia’s were now tasked to sieze the village of Tilloy while the RCR attacked on their left to capture Tilloy Hill. Although the initial effort by the Patricia’s to capture the village was successful, the RCR were unable to gain control of the high ground to the north. As a result, the battalion came under heavy and effective machine gun fire from numerous posts on Tilloy Hill. By 9:40 that evening Capt Edgar reported:

the remnants of the Battalion might be considered as a company, and holding a line of outposts through the village of Tilloy.”[i]

On the morning of October 1st, the Patricia’s were finally relieved as the 9th Brigade continued the attack. In total, the Regiment lost eight officers and 38 men during the battle out of a total casualty list of some 359. Because of the more fluid nature of the battle and greater ease in getting the wounded evacuated for treatment, the ratio of dead to wounded was significantly smaller than at Passchendaele. Battle of Canal du Nord was the last major action of the war for the Patricia’s. Major A.G. Pearson was promoted Acting Lieutenant Colonel and assumed command for the remainder of the advance to Mons. By chance, on November 11th, the Patricia’s were positioned as one of the battalions that led the British Army back into Mons where the Old Contemptibles had first faced the German attack in 1914.

[i]Ralph Hodder Williams,Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry 1914-1919, 377
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