Birth of a Regiment

 

Behind the Lines

Trench Newspaper

One of the great challenges of extended operations is sustaining the capacity of troops to remain in combat. Relief is essential to long term effectiveness. Early in the war units and formations began to implement a system of rotating units formations out of the line. Within units individuals would be left out of battle so that some core of rested troops would be available to help the exhausted unit when it withdrew. Any number of times in the story of the Patricia’s we see an officer with a group of reinforcements arriving on the scene at the very end of a battle. Typically historians have paid scant attention to action behind the line, choosing instead to focus on the more dramatic story of combat. And yet, any examination of a unit war diary reveals that troops spend a much greater portion of the time out of the line than in it. While it is well beyond the scope of this site to explore the topic in detail, a few samples are provided to give some sense of life behind the lines for the Patricia’s.

Training

The serious part of periods in reserve was of course training for the next battle. Individual training on technical matters like machine guns, mortars, the use of rifle grenades, gas masks would absorb a good deal of time for all troops. At a higher level, platoons, companies and even full battalions would re-trained as lessons learned in battle led to the development of new tactics. Some might be general training like the use of fire and movement at platoon level while other training might be tailored to a specific operation as it was before Vimy Ridge. But training alone would not deal with the pressing need for mental recovery. That would require a very different approach.

General Comforts

Successful units made every effort to make their troops as comfortable as possible when out of the line. This might range from daily mail delivery, showers, baths and laundry to shopping trips in the local town before Christmas. Inevitably, alcohol played a significant role. In the Patricia’s at least, the general approach was to manage consumption rather that prohibit or suppress. Drunkenness was a common element in many of the disciplinary problems that appeared before courts martial. The wives of the Regiment played a major role in channeling comforts to the front.

Sports


One principle method of letting off steam was through sports. Officers and NCOs would join in as part of a team with soldiers. Baseball was a favourite because it required little equipment and could be played on any relatively flat piece of open ground. But other endeavors ranging from equestrian events to boxing we also present. The activity was not simply for the teams involved but also for spectators. Competition between units was keen and the triumphant units would broadcast their results in unit and formation newsletters. Sports equipment was often purchased with Regimental funds or donated. Regimental wives were often pressed into service to find whatever was needed in England.

The Comedy Company


Perhaps the best known behind the lines innovation of the Patricia’s was the Comedy Company. As early as the fall of 1915, the Comedy Company started as a few soldiers performing satirical skits and songs in front of their fellows in a YMCA tent behind the lines. As their popularity grew, the company played to wider and wider audiences. Eventually it began to recruit talent from outside the regiment and evolved into a Brigade and ultimately a Divisional troupe. At the end of the war the Comedy Company was performing before Royalty in London. No one was immune from their biting satire. Agar Adamson reports being lampooned and the image of Mclaren as the General tells a story of its own. It is apparent that the company involved all ranks. Captain Pembroke who took a prominent part in a program in the fall of 1916 was the paymaster of the Patricia’s. Here too the wives of the Regiment played a small part by providing dresses for the soldiers playing women’s roles. After the war, the Comedy Company, much augmented by outside talent toured widely as the Dumbells.

The Comedy Company

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