Unending Seige

Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI)

Canada's initial military effort, intended as an all-out drive, reflected the original and even eccentric mind of Sam Hughes, the minister of militia and defence.

The Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), Canada's only professional infantry regiment, was sent to Bermuda to relieve an English unit recalled to Europe, where the real action was centred. Replaced in turn by inexperienced militia units raised in Canada, the RCR would later rejoin the professional fighting force.

The creation of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was an exception to the recruiting methods used by Hughes. On 1 August 1914 Montreal industrialist Hamilton Gault offered Hughes a cavalry regiment. At a distance of 15 years, Gault seemed inspired by Strathcona's initiative, though unlike his predecessor he wanted to fight with the regiment he bought.

On 2 August the minister accepted, with the proviso that the formation be an infantry regiment. Its first commanding officer would be Francis Farquhar, military secretary to the Duke of Connaught, the governor-general of Canada and brother of the King. The Duke was the father of the Princess Patricia who would lend the battalion her name. Gault put up the $100,000 needed to establish the regiment, which recruited mainly veterans, especially veterans of South Africa. It was believed that these experienced men could be trained more quickly, and the fact that they came from a small population segment would not impede recruiting for the rest of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

The PPCLI assembled in Ottawa, and on 24 August the men took the train to Montreal where a ship was ready for them. The regiment was ordered to stop at Quebec City to await a convoy that was to leave for England in early October. In the meantime the PPCLI trained at Lévis, not Valcartier, thus displaying a spirit of independence that was not in keeping with Hughes's expressed determination to have a Canadian force.

Integrated with the British 27th Division, the PPCLI was the first unit from Canada to reach the front and suffer terrible losses. In the fall of 1915 the division was called to Salonika with brigades of four battalions rather than five. Having to choose between a new British brigade and an equivalent Canadian formation, the PPCLI opted for the latter, which would simplify the replacement of its casualties. On 25 November 1915 the transfer was completed. By that stage the PPCLI had many more young Canadian recruits than when it had reached the front. Inspecting her regiment in London on 21 February 1919, Princess Patricia would recognize only 44 men out of the 1, 000 militiamen she had seen in Ottawa in 1914. Among them was Hamilton Gault, with one leg amputated.