Saturday, 27 September 2014


After a month of waiting and training at St. Joseph de Levis, an old militia camp on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, the Patricia's received orders for embarkation. Finally the Regiment would set sail for Europe. On September 27th, 1914 they boarded the R.M.S. Royal George.

It was at Camp Levis that Hamilton Gault arranged to produce the first batch of scarlet shoulder badges on which the letters 'PPCLI' were embroidered in white. The shoulder titles were made by the Sisters of Charity, the order of nuns established by Saint Marguerite d' Youville in 1752 and the same order of nuns who had knitted for Wolfe's Highlanders in 1759. Gault was aware the Sisters of Charity cared for the wounded after the Battle of Quebec in 1759. In the rest of North America this order is known as the "Grey Nuns." The original PPCLI shoulder titles were modelled after those worn by the British Army from 1902 to 1908. British infantry regiments were directed to wear curved shoulder titles featuring white letters on a red background on their khaki service dress. These uniforms were withdrawn from service in July 1908. 

PPCLI Originals at Camp Levis, Quebec led by Hamilton Gault

The extra month in training had provided an opportunity to straighten out rusty skills or instill non-existent ones. This included siting and digging trenches, advance and rear guards, outpost duties and practicing attacks both day and night. The men spent a significant amount of time on the ranges testing the Ross Rifle, the Quebec-manufactured sporting rifle that Sam Hughes insisted on issuing to all Canadian troops. The rifle was not popular with PPCLI soldiers, the majority of whom had qualified on the British Lee Enfield rifle during their previous service. Although much has been made of the Ross rifle's tendency to jam, the design of its bolt, and its bayonet occasionally detaching when it fired, the weapon suffered from more serious design shortcomings. It was one pound heavier than the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) Mark III issued to British soldiers. It was also 15 inches longer, which made the weapon more cumbersome in the confines of a trench system. However, the most significant difference between the two weapons was the magazine. The Ross rifle had a five-round magazine; the SMLE had a ten-round magazine that could be loaded more quickly. 

Ultimately, Farquhar rejected the Ross Rifle before the units' departure for France, the first Canadian unit to do so, choosing instead the standard British Lee Enfield. The rest of the Canadian Expeditionary Force would be burdened with the ineffective rifle until late 1915. "The experience we have had with the Ross," wrote Farquhar in an official memo, "can hardly fail to have shaken the confidence of the men in that rifle." 

Captain Buller and Lt Col Farquhar

The recruiting restrictions placed on Farquhar and Gault meant they weren't able to draw upon the more experienced militia and as such, many of the officers in the original contingent of Patricia's were unlikely choices.

Captain George Bennett, for example, was a former Regina bank clerk and the brother of Conservative Member of Parliament, R.B. Bennett. Selected for service with the PPCLI not due to his military prowess but through his political pull,  he was appointed paymaster.

Captain Charles Stewart, a Nova Scotia bachelor from a prominent family, was another example of an officer selected for his connections to high society rather than for excellence or integrity in past service. Charlie Stewart was known more for his defiant nature and his bold adventurous spirit. His chequered past included expulsion from the Royal Military College for gambling, demotion within ranks of the mounted police for striking a corporal and numerous affairs with women, married and otherwise.

Two of the most unlikely originals, now legendary in Regimental history, are Talbot Papineau and Agar Adamson.

Papineau, an old friend of Gault’s, was the French Canadian great-grandson of Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the "patriote" during the Rebellion of 1837. He was the cousin of Henri Bourassa, the arch opponent of French Canadian participation in the War. Papineau, an intellectual, had no military experience whatsoever but had sent a personal telegram to Hamilton Gault asking to join the Regiment, in spite of the very English overtones of the newly formed battalion. Gault accepted his request immediately and Papineau was made a Lieutenant. His Aunt wrote, "Imagine a descendant of Louis-Joseph Papineau the Front. God be praised!"

Agar Adamson was perhaps the most remarkable of the recruits. He was 48 when he enlisted, a decade older than what would normally be consider the oldest of recruits, and blind in one eye. Also born into Canadian aristocracy, Adamson had served with the Lord Strathcona's Horse in the Boer War in 1900 where he discovered a passion for commanding troops in action. The day after war was declared in 1914, Adamson left at once for Ottawa and learned of Gault's plan. The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry provided a last window of opportunity for an aging Agar Adamson to soldier once again. 

For Papineau, the additional training at Levis was an opportunity to discover how little he knew. "I spend as much time as possible reading my manuals," he wrote to his mother. "The other day I tied my platoon all up and had an awful time getting it straightened out. I seem to get along well with the men but I make a good many mistakes in drill, which is most annoying." 

For Agar Adamson, the month at Levis brought him back to his youth. The officers had all been provided with excellent horses by wealthy admirers and the drills brought out the best in him. 

"We had a great night march a few nights ago," he wrote to his thirteen year old son Rodney. He described in the letter how he had led his company through three miles of thick woods and underbrush, with only a tiny radium-illuminated compass as guide, and emerged triumphantly at dawn precisely at the point where the white flag was posted. "I was quite please with the result", he continued, "because you know that, as your mother says, I can lose my way in the daytime anywhere in Toronto, but it is a different game we are playing just now." He relays, "you can send long messages by moving  your arms in certain directions"  and spoke about a forced march during which he carried "a sword, a greatcoat, a pistol and fifty rounds of ammunition, a blanket, a waterproof sheet, a water bottle, a haversack and a pair of field-glasses" for twenty-seven miles, the last five miles non-stop. There are also stories about the Rugger game with the sergeants, "The next morning I felt as if every bone in my body had been broken," he wrote, "but we won by one goal to a try." 

Adamson took the training seriously and as second-in-command of Company C, earned the respect of his men. He in turn gave them his deep respect. "They are a fine lot," he told Rodney. "They never complain no matter how wet or tired or cold they are, and very often, they are all three."

Pte Thomas Pritchard proudly displaying the Ric-A-Dam-Doo
Camp Levis
, Quebec, September 1914.