Birth of a Regiment


The End of the War

The NCOs at Mons Nov 1911

After the triumphant return to Mons, the Regiment settled down to the business of getting the soldiers ready for demobilization. There were of course a variety of parades and ceremonials, but the Third Division at least was spared the task of being part of the occupying force in Germany. It is typical of the Regiment that its members should play a prominent role in the establishment of the Khaki University, a scheme to prepare men for their return to Canada by providing training in a wide range of subjects.

On November 22, at a parade in Mons, Pearson handed the Regiment back to its founder, Hamilton Gault. Within a week however, Gault was dispatched to England to make arrangement for a final review of the Regiment by Princess Patricia. By this time, it was known that Patricia would marry a commoner, Commander Alexander Ramsay,DSO, RN who had for some years been her father’s Naval secretary. In doing so, she would give up her royal title and become for members of the Regiment “Lady Patricia”.

The Nivelles Incident

During Gault’s absence there was an embarrassing breakdown of discipline at Nivelles. An inexperienced Brigade Commander had determined that the exhausted troops needed to be smartened up. To accomplish this he ordered a series of lengthy route marches in full battle order. On December 11th and 12th the Patricia’s marched thirty-four kilometres from Mons to Nivelles with packs and wearing steel helmets. Needless to say, they were not amused. When they were once again ordered to continue the march the following day some men began to resist. It is uncertain how many men were involved or from what units. Hodder Williams makes no mention of the event in his account, nor is there any mention in the unit war diary. Unit histories of the RCR and 42nd Regiment make only passing reference. The 42nd account suggests that the problems originated in other units and only the RCR admit to active involvement by a single company. It seems evident that all those involved had an interest in keeping a low profile. Later evidence from some of those involved and the record of courts martial makes it clear that a number of Patricia’s were actively involved. Private Paul Butler, a young American born soldier from Chicago was one of the ring leaders and was charged with encouraging others to join in a mutiny. Standing just over 5 ft 5 in tall, Butler would no doubt have found the strenuous marches particularly difficult. His slight stature and enlistment date in the summer of 1917 suggest that he was one of a number of Americans who came north to enlist when they did not meet minimum US Army physical standards. He arrived in the battalion in March 1918 and had served throughout the battles of the Hundred Days including the strenuous and lengthy advance to Mons. Although the Court found him guilty, the sentence was only two years. The accompanying recommendation of mercy on the grounds of his previous service makes it clear that the convening authority saw this incident more as a failure in commonsense and leadership that a serious attempt at mutiny. Had Butler been convicted of leading a mutiny six months earlier, he would no doubt have faced the death penalty. In the end, the incident was effectively resolved when Gault returned from England and it had no serious impact on the good name of the Regiment.

Consecration of the Colour

The Patricia’s were the first in action and were also one of the first battalions to return to Canada along with their comrades in the 7th Brigade. But before their departure there were three significant events for the Regiment. The first was the consecration of the Ric-a-dam-doo, the flag made by Princess Patricia that had accompanied the regiment in battle throughout the war. The simple ceremony on a snow covered field in Belgium transformed the camp colour to a Regimental Colour due full honours by all it passed before. It was typical of the PPCLI that the decision was taken by the regiment alone without the formal authorization of Canadian authorities. The Regiment simply invited the Brigade and Divisional Commanders to attend.

The Patricia’s returned to England on February 7th to Bramschott Camp to make their final preparations for the return to Canada. On February 21st the Regiment paraded for the last time for their Princess. Only two original officers (Gault and Adamson) and 42 other ranks remained from those Originals who had first accepted the Colour from her hands at Lansdowne Park in 1914. Unique among Canadian Regiments, the PPCLI Regimental Colour bears a wreath of laurel presented on that day by their Colonel-in-Chief Patricia “in recognition of their heroic services in the Great War, 1914-1918’. A few days later, forty NCOs and all the officers attended the wedding of Patricia and Commander Ramsay. A Regimental Honour Guard with the newly decorated colour at its head led the wedding procession from Wellington Barracks to Westminster Abbey.

The Final Parade

On March 8th, the Regiment left England aboard the Carmania and arrived in Halifax on March 17th, the birthday of their Colonel –in-Chief. On arrival, an invitation from Andrew Carnegie to come to New York and Parade down 5th Avenue, provides yet another mark of the unique position of the Regiment in the public eye. As was appropriate, however, the Regiment returned to Ottawa and Lansdowne Park for the final parade on March 20th 1919.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email