Birth of a Regiment

 

Lt Col Agar S.A.M. Adamson, DSO


Agar Adamson like Hamilton Gault was a man well accustomed to the upper levels of Canadian society. Born in Ottawa in 1885 to a family that was financially comfortable and well connected. His father was a mid level civil servant who had the good fortune to marry a wealthy wife. Like Gault, he joined the local militia regiment, the Governor General’s Foot Guards, was a lover of the outdoors and a capable horseman. Although not wealthy, Adamson’s charm let him move easily is the social circles at Government House. By the turn of the century, his financial concerns were at an end. He had fallen in love and married Mabel Cawthra, the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Toronto. With Gault in Montreal and Adamson in Toronto, the Regiment was to gain the kind of economic and political clout that would help ensure its survival at the end of the war. During the South African War Agar joined Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Placed in charge of a reinforcing troop, he arrived on the veldt after most of the set piece battles were over, but still saw enough action to know that the army life was in his blood. Falling ill with typhoid fever, he was invalided back to England late in 1900 after little more than six months active service. He returned to South Africa for a second brief tour as a Captain with the 6th Canadian Mounted Rifles with hopes of ultimately securing a commission in a British regiment. Like Gault, he found that with reductions in strength there was no room for extra colonial officers. For the next decade, Adamson lived a gentleman’s life in Toronto while Mabel took care of the family business. [i]
For Adamson, the prospect of war in 1914 was a godsend that would allow him to get back to the life he enjoyed. At 48 and and blind in one eye, his challenge was to find a regiment and the Patricia’s seemed like the ideal choice. Although he had not met Hamilton Gault, he was well acquainted with Arthur Sladen, then private secretary to the Governor General. Despite his age and poor eyesight, he was accepted and appointed Captain PPCLI in August 1914. Shortly after his arrival, Mabel joined him in England where she remained throughout the war. He commanded during part of Battle of May 8, 1915 until he, like so many others was wounded. He rejoined regiment in September 1915. When Buller was killed at Sanctuary Wood, Adamson assumed command until Pelly could be recalled to rebuild the Regiment. After the Somme battles of the fall of 1916, Pelly was recalled and Adamson resumed command. He commanded at both Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in 1917. At 53, by the spring of 1918 Adamson was exhausted after three years in the battalion. Before being struck off strength as medically unfit, he transferred to the staff of the Canadian Corps. At the end of the war he became a Summary Court Officer at Bonn with the Army of Occupation. He has awarded the DSO and was twice Mentioned in Despatches.
After the war, Adamson spent his time between summers in the lake country of Ontario and winters in Ottawa or England. In 1929 he was involved in a near fatal aircraft accident when his plane crashed in the Irish Sea and died later that same year. For the historian, the most remarkable legacy left by Adamson was the collection of letters he wrote to Mabel almost daily during the war. As a senior officer, the letters were not subject to the same scrutiny applied to ordinary soldiers.[ii] As a result we have a candid picture of both the Regiment he loved and a commentary on contemporary political affairs.

[ii]Sandra Gwynn,Tapestry of War, Chapter 4 – The Captain Returns
[ii]N.M. Christie,Letters of Agar Adamson 1914-1919,

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email