In the summer of 1914, most Canadians were enjoying a pleasant summer, not much concerned about events in Europe. The Duke of Connaught with his wife and glamorous twenty eight year old daughter, set off on what was to be a farewell tour of western Canada. Princess Patricia was the very pinnacle of smart society. When she visited New York two years earlier, the New York Times devoted a full page to her tour. She was the darling of skating parties at Rideau Hall[i]and a constant topic of conversation as newspapers speculated about just which royal prince or duke she might marry.
Many had more serious concerns and saw war with Germany as a looming threat. Among them was Andrew Hamilton Gault,a wealthy Montreal businessman. He had seen service in South Africa as a young man and was a captain in the city’s Black Watch militia regiment. He was also socially well acquainted with both the Governor General and Lieutenant Colonel Francis Farquhar,his military secretary. In late July, Gault became determined to take action to ensure that Canada would have at least some troops ready to come to the aid of the Empire in what was expected to be a short and bloody war. His initial idea was to personally contribute funds to raise a regiment of Cavalry much as Lord Strathcona had done for the war in South Africa in 1899. Such philanthropy was not uncommon in the pre-war milita. In addition to paying for their own uniforms and equipment, many officers would contribute most of their pay to the support of their regiment. While much of the support went to parades, uniforms, bands and the regimental mess, there was also support for more practical pursuits. In 1910, Sir Henry Pellat, the wealthy commanding officer of Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles paid for a trip by his regiment to England to take part in British training exercises at Aldershot.[ii] One might also argue that the Patricia’s were not the last regiment raised as a result of a private initiative. Although le 22e bataillon (canadien-francais) required much more public lobbying to overcome the intransigence of Sam Hughes, the contribution of $50,000 by Arthur Mignault was just as critical as the contribution of Gault some months earlier.[iii]
On Monday, August 3rd, Gault set off for Ottawa to put his idea before Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia. Hughes, with his flair for the dramatic, welcomed the idea but suggested infantry would be more appropriate. Gault immediately shared the idea with his friend, Francis Farquhar. Over the next few days, the two finalized the details of the proposal. In what was a public relations master-stroke, Farquhar suggested they seek permission to name the regiment after the popular Princess Patricia. After consulting the Governor General and the Princess, they prepared the final charter for the regiment under the name Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry – “Light” being added to provide added to provide an “irregular tang”.[iv] By August 10th, the charter for the Regiment had been signed with Hughes adding the word “Canadian” to the title. Hamilton Gault’s contribution was to be $100,000 (the equivalent of over $2 million in 2011 based on consumer price index or over $9 million using the index of production worker compensation).[v]
Recruiting began in earnest the next day using a network of prominent local citizens in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. The combined appeal of Farquhar in command, Gault as second-in-command and the name of a beautiful and popular princess was electric. Out of over 3,000 initial applicants, 1098 were chosen and by August 19th mobilization was complete. The quality of the new recruits was outstanding. Farquhar had started by convincing the Governor General to free up two other members of his personal staff. Captain H.C. Buller from the Rifle Brigade became adjutant and Major R.T. Pelly was to command a company. The first Regimental Sergeant Major, William Marsden had served in South Africa and won the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Paardeburg in 1901. He came to Canada in 1907 to join the Royal Canadian Regiment and at the outbreak of war was a Staff Sergeant in Militia headquarters. This core group must have been delighted with the quality of the recruits who passed before them. Long time soldiers appeared, like 39 year old George McCallum from the elite Life Guards. At 6 ft. 4 in. he was a striking figure and soon became a Company Sergeant Major. There were also colourful groups like the Legion of Frontiersmen from the west adorned in stetson hats and a full pipe band from Edmonton complete with pipes and kilts. On Sunday August 23rd, following church parade, the Regiment formed up at Lansdowne Park to receive a Colourfrom Princess Patricia. The Colour, affectionately known as the Ric-a-dam-doo remained with the Regiment in action throughout the war.
As told by the official history of the Regiment, the originals were “Prospectors, trappers, guides, cow-punchers, prize-fighters, farmers, professional and business men, above all old soldiers”[vi]. The story has been echoed through the years in virtually every account of the regiment from Hodder-Williams to Bercuson. But does this image stand up to an examination of the data now available from over a thousand soldiers who joined the Regiment in 1914? 86% were British born but at least some of those like Hamilton Gault would have spent many years in Canada. Only 12% were Canadian born. It is the occupation declared by these recruits that provides the most revealing picture. Only 5% were farmers and 2% ranchers. Of trappers and guides we find only nine. On the other-hand, tradesmen made up 23% of the total, labourers 14%, professionals 8% and office workers 6%. Amongst the tradesmen there was a rich source of talent ranging from shoemakers and telephone linesmen to masons, mechanics and even two motion picture operators. There were good number of trained horsemen ranging from teamsters to blacksmiths, harness makers and even a veterinary surgeon. The group of professionals was equally eclectic. We find civil and mining engineers, lawyers and more accountants than trappers or guides. The more valid picture then is a group drawn largely from urban areas and far from the rugged outdoorsman image of regimental myth. To be sure there were prize fighters like Jock Munroe who knocked out the heavy weight champion James Jeffries in 1905. But these colourful figures were the exception. Even the Legion of Frontiersmen, despite their cowboy hats, included clerks, policemen and railway workers along with the stockmen and ranchers. Some like 23 year old Bill Popey had no previous military experience. But with a glib tongue and some an work as a teamster he managed to talk his way into the Regiment.[vii]
[i]Sandra Gwyn,Tapestry of War, 9
[ii]James Wood,Militia Myths, 14
[iii]Jean-Pierre Gagnon,Le 22e bataillon (canadien-francais) 32
[iv]Jeffery Williams,First in the Field, 61
[v]http://www.measuringworth.com/ provides a US dollar calculator using six different indices,
[vi]Ralph Hodder-Williams,Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Vol 1, 8
[vii]Robert Zubkowski,As Long as Faith and Freedom Last,6