Birth of a Regiment


Preparing for War

As numbers built up a brief period of intensive training ensued under the officers and NCOs and the watchful oversight of the Duke of Connaught. The RSM noted:

“By the last Friday in August we were fully retrained, had fired our course in musketry and were ready for the job for which we had enlisted. We worked hard and drilled hard.”[i] 

The Patricia’s on parade at Lansdowne Park August 1914

While Farquhar focused on bringing the Regiment up to strength, Gault, as his second-in-command dealt with the myriad of administrative and support challenges needed to get the regiment ready for war. Not satisfied to leave such important matters to normal channels, he personally hired tailors and cooks to ensure the troops were properly fed and dressed in the early days. Horses were also a priority. The recruiting process had provided a solid group of trained horsemen from blacksmiths and harness makers to grooms and teamsters. To provide the horses, Gault turned to his friends. Many came forward with offers to provide mounts including the sturdy chestnut Sandy, who would serve him throughout the war.
Gault also initiated arrangements to get the regiment overseas as quickly as possible. On August 28th, the Regiment left Ottawa by train for Montreal, there to board the Megantic to embark for England. By the time the ship reached Quebec however, orders came from Ottawa that the Admiralty had decided that troops ships should only proceed in convoy. Given the total lack of security around the event, the decision was undoubtedly correct. Newspapers in New York had reported the departure including the name of the ship, details on the strength of the regiment and names of key officers.[ii] Whatever the facts, it was clear that the Patricia’s blamed Sam Hughes for the delay. Marsden recalls furious Company Sergeant Majors on the verge of mutiny. As to Hughes, he says:

“The reason we were stopped at Quebec was on account of the Minister of Defence. Major General Sam Hughes had objected to us going over before his army was raised. He was jealous of the Patricia’s, because they were raised by a private gentleman. The Minister never once visited us and I am glad he did not do so, as the Battalion would have booed him.”[iii]

Farquahar objected to the initial order to proceed to Valcartier and used his influence with the Governor General to see that the regiment remained at Levis near the point of embarkation. Insulated from the confusion of Valcartier, the Regiment spent the next month in much needed training. The influence of Farquahar’s background in the Guards was also beginning to show. Companies had numbers rather than letters, officers were to grow moustaches and learn French and the battalion marched at the slower Guards pace. It was here too that the bright red and white PPCLI shoulder patch appeared.[iv]


During this period, Farquhar insisted on a thorough test of the Ross Rifleas most of his men had been trained on the British Lee-Enfield. The damning report[v]that resulted was but the first of a series of complaints that ultimately led to the replacement of the Ross with the Lee-Enfield in 1916. That the PPCLI was the first unit to voice its objections can only have worsened relations with Sam Hughes. On September 27th, the Patricia’s were once more ready to sail to England, this time aboard the Royal George in convoy with the fleet bearing the First Canadian Contingent of 30,000 men. Training continued during the three weeks at sea including map reading, signaling, daily fitness runs and French lessons for the officers. The voyage also marks the more direct involvement of women in the life of the Regiment. On board were Lady Evelyn Farquhar and Marguerite Gault. Others including Mabel Adamson would soon join them in England. Throughout the war regimental wives, together with Princess Patricia visited the wounded, sent favours to the troops in the field, and wrote to wives and mothers of the fallen at home.
Immediately after landing, Farquhar began a concerted campaign to set the Regiment apart from the rest of the Canadian contingent. He argued that the Regiment, unlike others, was ready for immediate deployment. In less than a month, he had his way and the Patricia’s left for Morn Hill to join the newly formed 80th Brigade of the 27th Division. In the transition, the Regiment replaced the Ross rifle with the familiar and rugged Lee-Enfield. Thus it was that the Patricia’s became the first Canadian combat unit in France when they landed at Le Havre on December 21st, 1914. At the time, they were unlike the rest of the Canadians – largely British born, commanded by British officers, carrying British weapons and serving in a British brigade alongside battalions from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, The Rifle Brigade and the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. Much was to change before the end of the war.

[i]Robert Zubkowski,,As Long as Faith and Freedom Last 15
[ii]New York Times 28 Aug 1914
[iii]Robert Zubkowski,As Long as Faith and Freedom Last 16
[iv]Jeffery Williams,First in the Field 69
[v]Ralph Hodder-Williams,Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Vol 1, 16

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