Birth of a Regiment

 

Contemporary History about the Patricia’s

We also have seen a resurgence in writing about the Patricia’s in contemporary history.  The most important work is David Bercuson’s The Patricias published in 2001[i].  Like earlier histories, it is a commissioned work intended largely to add material about more recent history.  Nevertheless, in the brief hundred pages devoted to the First World War, Bercuson make excellent use of soldiers stories extracted from the regimental archives.  The challenge of course is to avoid the trap, identified by Morton, of giving undue weight to such anecdotes.  His characterization of the original battalion’s distinctly western flavour composed of “farmhands, cowboys and miners” will be tested and found wanting.  In a similar manner, he perhaps over emphasizes the importance of the “mutiny” at Nivelles, suggesting that it might have derailed the ambition of the regiment to become part of the regular force.  Supporting graphical material once is crammed into a few central pages and all supporting maps grouped at the end of the text.  Once again we see the unfortunate impact of the economics of printing and book binding on the discourse of history.

In addition to this primary account, we also have a number of supporting works about the regiment that add an abundance of primary source material.  The most important by far come is N.M. Christie’s compilation of the Letters of Agar Adamson 1914-1916[ii].  Adamson served with the regiment from its formation until the spring of 1918 and was the commanding officer from late 1916 and wrote to his wife Mabel virtually once a week.  The correspondence is all the more remarkable in that it appears to have been totally uncensored.  Although Adamson made some vague attempts and coding his messages using references known only to his wife, there is little doubt the any censor would view the content as a serious breach of security.  In what might be described as an archival testament, Robert Zubkowski catalogued and transcribed a vast store of archival material in As Long as Faith and Freedom Last.[iii]For Zubkowski this was a labour of love.  Having served as Drum Major in the First Battalion, Zubkowski spent the final seven years of his career working in the Regimental Museum and Archives.  During that period, he provided research support to a number of eminent historians.  Rather than constantly replicating his work he took the very soldierly step of putting it in good order and then publishing the material for easy access by date and author.  Future historians of the Regiment will treasure the work for years to come.  In somewhat similar fashion, Stephen Newman, late Regimental Adjutant has published a number of battlefield narratives that gather together a treasure of archival material.  Finally, a Jeffery Williams biography of Hamilton Gault[iv] together with Sandra Gwyn’s superb Tapestry of War[v] provide excellent background material related to the formation of the Regiment and the process of creating its distinct identity.  Gwyn’s book presented as a “private view of Canadians in the Great War” spins its narrative around the lives of the social elite linked to the regiment.  Agar Adamson and an Ottawa socialite, Ethel Chadwick provide the framework while Gault, Talbot Papineau and Max Aitken play supporting roles.  For the first time we are given a clear picture of the social environment that surrounded the birth of the regiment and its development into a Canadian icon.  Our challenge will be to weave these insights into the general military narrative to present a more balanced picture of the development of the regiment that has heretofore been possible.

We will also benefit from the history of the Le 22e bataillon (canadien français) 1914-1919 by Jean-Pierre Gagnon published in 1986[vi].  It is notable as the first official history published in French and was the first of a series of works to be published following the creation of a francophone section of the historical section.  It is unique among regimental histories in that Gagnon spends relatively little time dealing with the stuff of drums and bugles.  The entire account of battle is confined less than forty pages.  The balance of the text explores the formation of the battalion, life and the front and a substantial section focused on the make-up of the battalion supported by extensive statistical analysis.  There are of course many parallels with the Patricia’s.  Both were raised with the help of private funds, both have excellent records of service and both were selected to become part of the regular army following the war.  But it will be the differences as much as those parallels that inform our analysis.  We will be able to compare the two units based such factors as age, religion, place of birth, civil occupation and casualties.

[i] David J. Bercuson, The Patricias, the Proud History of a Fighting Regiment. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Limited, 2001.
[ii] Norman M. Christie, ed. Letters of Agar Adamson 1914-1919. Nepean, Ontario: CEF Books, 1997.
[iii] Sergeant (Ret’d) Robert F. Zubkowski, As Long as Faith and Freedom Last – Stories from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from June 1914 to September 1919. Calgary, Alberta: Bunker to Bunker Books, 2004.
[iv] Jeffery Williams, First in the Field, Gault of the Patricia’s. St Catherines, ON: Vanwell Publishing Ltd., 1995.

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