Conditions at Morn Hill had been as unpleasant as Salisbury Plain and the weather had quite possibly been worse. It was cold, extremely wet and strong winds frequently lifted tent pegs from the saturated soil collapsing canvas tents. Constant rain quickly turned unpaved roads and paths into muddy tracks. Soldiers cooked their rations over open fires behind improvised windbreaks. Each soldier received a daily ration comprised of a pound of bread, a pound of meat or bacon and a pound of vegetables. Soldiers had limited access to hot water and bathing facilities, and seldom had the opportunity to dry their clothes and equipment.
Hamilton Gault spent the weeks at Morn Hill ensuring the Regiment's weapons and stores were ready for war as well as continually pushing for better conditions for the men. Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar kept the Regiment busy with preparations and training, with special emphasis placed on weapons training. Owing to Farquhar's great negotiating skills, the PPCLI exchanged their Canadian Ross rifles for British Lee Enfields and were ready for immediate deployment.
On Sunday, December 20th, 1914, after several false starts and numerous changes to the Regiment's notice to move, 27 officers and 956 other ranks marched away from their camp at Morn Hill. Supported by 25 vehicles, 82 horses, 2 motorcycles and 10 bicycles the Regiment departed for the docks at Southampton. The battalion was third in the order of march, following the 2nd Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry. The Regiment arrived in Southampton at 1640 hours and proceeded to Berth 46 to embark on the SS Cardiganshire. The Cardiganshire departed in fine weather for France at 1900 hours, moving into the Solent under a destroyer escort with its lights blacked out.
Captain Agar Adamson, to his great disappointment, was not with the battalion but was left behind with a small detachment of NCOs to train replacements. Neither were Talbot Papineau or Charlie Stewart who were recovering from a freak incident earlier in the month. On the night of December 3rd, Papineau and Stewart escaped with their lives when their tent went up in flames. Both men suffered severe burns. In a letter to his mother, Papineau explained, "I was sound asleep. Charlie came in about eleven o'clock. He smoked a cigarette and went to sleep. Since he and his side of the tent were more severely burned, it is probable his cigarette or a candle started it." Although Stewart's burns were considered life threatening in the following days, both officers eventually recovered fully and joined the Regiment in France.
The voyage across the English Channel was uneventful. SS Cardiganshire arrived at Le Havre at 0500 hours on Monday December 21st 1914 and, after a lengthy delay, docked at 1325 hours. Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry disembarked immediately and became the first Canadian fighting unit to arrive in France during the First World War. The Regiment left the docks at 1500 hours and marched through rain showers to Camp #2 outside of Le Havre, arriving at 1730 hours for an overnight stay. The battalion transport followed later, arriving at 2015 hours.
It was four long, cold, miserable months from their departure in Ottawa on that hot August day to the Regiment's arrival in France. In spite of the uninviting environment at the transit camp in Le Havre, morale among the men was as high as the day they left home.
I was in that gallant band of brothers affectionately know as the Pats who set out from Morn Hill Camp, Winchester on that bleak day of December 1914 enroute to Southampton and Le Havre, France. It was one of many unforgettable incidents in the glorious history of the Battalion.
W. H. Roffey
Letter from the collection of PPCLI Regimental Archives