The weary battalion reached their destination near Dickebusch in the early afternoon of the 6th. There they rested their worn feet in a rain soaked field until after dusk. After a hearty meal they moved forward to relieve the 53rd Regiment of the 32nd French Division at the front.
The boots issued to all Canadian soldiers had been developed from a pattern used in the Boer War and were unsuited to the harsh conditions of France and Belgium. When suggestions to strengthen the soles had been considered for use in Europe the Director General of Clothing and Equipment had reported that "the British army boot appears much too heavy for wear in Canada". With the exceptionally cold and wet winter, and only one pair available per man, the boots were never given an opportunity to dry and the stitching rotted away.
When the crisis in footwear became apparent, Lieutenant General Alderson, Commander of the Canadian Contingent, ordered that British regulation boots be issued immediately, and each unit commander was required to render a certificate "that every man is in possession of a service pair of Imperial pattern Army boots" before the Division moved to France. The Patricias would not get new boots in time for their first experience in the trenches.
War Diary Entry:
Wed, Jan 6, 1915 METEREN, FRANCE
6.1.15 Marched from METEREN to DICKIEBUSH (DICKEBUSCH) via BAILLEUL, and LOCRE. Lack of boots much felt many men marching with no soles at all to their boots.
Arrived DICKIEBUSH and rested till 5 pm. At 4 pm Major HAMILTON (A.H.) GAULT returned to Bn with general instructions with regard to taking over the trenches from the 53rd French Regt. 63rd Brigade 32nd Division. Bn marched from X roads 1/2 mi. S.W. of DICKIEBUSH via DICKIEBUSH to road junction 1/4 mi. N.W. of VIERSTRAAT.
When the Right Half Bn under Major GAULT took over the 2 sections on the right. The Left Half Bn marched to LA BRASSERIE & took over the remaining 2 sections. Time was lost owing to no guides having been provided by the French. Taking over completed at midnight without incident. Line held by the Bn extended 1150 yds as per attached sketch. Trenches were found to be in a very waterlogged condition: no brasiers & few dug outs: distance from GERMAN LINE 40 yds on our LEFT, 200 yds on our RIGHT. Work of bringing up ammunition to scale of 250 rds per rifle as well as rations continuing till 3 a.m. 7.1.15.
|The defensive position occupied by PPCLI on January 6th, 1915|
The section of the line the Patricias were called to occupy was three miles south-west of Ypres at Vierstraat. Gault had gone ahead with an advance party, an officer and three NCO's from each company, studied the maps and was briefed by the French general. He surveyed the trenches the evening before and was appalled by the conditions his men would be facing.
Constructed by the French in haste, this was not a sophisticated trench system. Rather the Patricias would be occupying crude ditches in the mud, too wide and too shallow to be of any protection from shellfire. There were gaps between platoon positions and there were no communication trenches leading to the rear. The enemy was less than 50 yards away in some positions and it would be impossible to move either in or out of the trenches in daylight. The Regiment would be greatly disadvantaged with the lower and very unsuitable defensive ground.
|The Ypres Salient in January 1915. The dashed lines show the railway network in place at that time|
Mid evening of January 6th, 1915, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry marched in close formation slowly and steadfastly into the darkness and unyielding mud toward their position in the front lines. The usual jokes and quips were, for the first time, muttered in low voices and with strained nerves as they observed the conditions around them. The reality of what they were now facing became clearer with the sight of stretcher bearers, the flashes of red in the night and the crack of bullets around them. By midnight they had taken their positions without casualties but on the second day in the line, January 8th, 1915, the Regiment lost it first two men killed in action.