Saturday, 28 February 2015


The German Army with the advantage of high ground, dry trenches and more advanced technology was an intimidating enemy. Their effective use of snipers was particularly demoralizing. There were 20,000 telescopic sights in service in the German Army when the Regiment began fighting near St. Eloi. Each German company possessed up to six sniper rifles, issued to well trained NCOs to ensure they were properly used and maintained. German snipers operated in pairs with one man shooting and one man spotting. They shot from carefully concealed loopholes in the German trenches, from hidden positions in no man’s land, and from positions taken after they'd infiltrated the Allied lines. In contrast, there was no formal sniper organization in the British Army. 

....Nothing appeared visible on the German front. Nothing moved or stirred. There was nothing to be seen but an implacable line of sandbags and earth. Yet the bullets came in showers and with deadly exactitude. 

No puff of smoke, no whiff of any sort, revealed from whence they came. What manner of fighting was this? A hidden enemy contriving to spew death without revealing himself? Bringing a new sense of unreality to men who had so often won victory in practice shooting against the champions of the world; and who had been ready at any time to stake their lives upon their skill against any champion? 

….Here, however, all traditions were set at naught. There was something stealthy and horrible about it. There was nothing to be seen to shoot at in reprisal - yet the enemy's bullets now came through that single bull's eye - slender as it was - in showers, seemingly in cynical boastfulness, to show the world what Germany had thrust up its brutal sleeve for the world's undoing! And the clever Canadians, crack shots as they were, were held helpless!"

Quoted from the book, "Mopping Up", written by Lieutenant Jack Monroe PPCLI

James Murdoch Christie
1907-1908 Keele Expedition 
Both Hamilton Gault and Colonel Farquhar had nearly fallen victim to snipers’ bullets. With casualties mounting and no escape from the constant sniping day and night, Colonel Farquhar devised a plan to rally against the enemy’s expert shooters. Farquhar ordered Scout officer Lieutenant W.G. Colquhoun, an experienced militia man, to muster a section of skilled hunters and marksmen to form an elite sniping unit. Under the command of “Shorty”  Colquhoun and Corporal J.M. Christie, an experienced hunter and wilderness guide, the sniper section was swiftly assembled and expertly trained. A rugged soldier, Christie was over 40 years old when he enlisted with the Patricias. He was legendary for surviving an encounter with a Grizzly which had nearly swiped off the entire left side of his head. He then killed the bear with his gun and trudged five days back to civilization for help. Having spent his life in the bush, he was reputed to have exceptional observational skills and proved to be an excellent mentor for the snipers. They were immediately given independence to use their instincts on the battlefield and to fight with their own weapons. The results were remarkable with seventeen enemy shot during their first 48 hour tour near the Mound. This was the inception of the PPCLI sniping tradition which is proudly upheld in the serving Regiment today.

Lieutenant "Shorty" Colquhoun
Shelley Farm, February 1915
Determined to match the enemy's aggression, Farquhar came up with another strategy to take the Germans by surprise. The Germans facing the Mound were digging a fire trench not twenty yards away from the Patricias' position. Farquhar received permission to deliver a direct attack against the enemy trench. On February 27/28th, 1915 the Patricias carried out the first of what would become the infamous Canadian trench raids as well as the first engagement by Canadians on European soil. This offensive action was a huge boost in morale for the men and Farquhar's innovative leadership influenced Canadian trench warfare throughout the next four years of war.

Described as a "reconnaissance in force", the action began just before midnight on the 27th with the raiders assembled at Shelley Farm. Lieut. Colquhoun had already been out once on a successful reconnaissance and brought back very valuable information. Hamilton Gault and Shorty went out again an hour before midnight crawling out between trenches 21 and 22 across no man’s land to determine the exact locations of the German communication trenches. The bright moon that night made cover nearly impossible. Gault turned to the left, surveyed for some 200 yards then returned to report his findings. Colquhoun explored to the right but never reappeared. The attack was launched at 4:30 just before dawn.

War Diary Entry:

Sun, Feb 28, 1915 ST ELOI, BELGIUM
4.30 a.m. 28.2.15.
No 4 Coy together with Snipers and bomb throwers (under (T.M.) Lieut. PAPINEAU) attacked & captured German Sap opposite trench 21. Lieut. (C.E.) CRABBE led the attack. The Sap was demolished & the trench parapet knocked in. The coy withdrew at daybreak. Lieut. (W.G.) COLQUHOUN who had previously gone out to make reconnaissance never returned. Casualties. 1 officer missing (*) 2 officers wounded (@). Other ranks 5 killed 7 wounded. 2 missing. Appendix XIII: Sketch of German trenches near ST ELOI, Appendix XIV: Short account of operation. & Appendix XV: Telegrams of Congratulation

(*) Lieut. COLQUHOUN

Appendix XIV: 

Attack on German Sap 28.2.15.

1. The attack was undertaken with a view to giving a setback to the enemy who, from the sap opposite trenches 20 & 21 had become very aggressive & was doing considerable damage to 21 with bombs. etc.
2. No 4 Coy was detailed for the attack & organized as follows: 3 snipers under Cpl. ROSS. (D. 148) - Lieut (C.E.) CRABBE - 3 bomb throwers under Lieut (T.M.) PAPINEAU - remainder of snipers - 1 Platoon of No 4 Coy under Sergt PATTERSON (S.V. 1503) - 1 Platoon No. 4 in support - 1 Platoon No 4 with shovels to be ready as soon as trench was captured to demolish the parapet. - 1 Platoon in Reserve. 
3. The force was led by Cpl ROSS from SHELLEY Fm along hedge in front of new 21 to trench 22, thence to left end of trench 21 which was selected as jumping off point. From this point to the nearest point of German Sap was about 15 yards. The attackers crossed this without difficulty and entered the Sap. Cpl Ross was killed immediately on entering the Sap. Lieut CRABBE then led the Coy down the trench whilst Lieut PAPINEAU ran down the outside of the parapet throwing bombs into the trench. Lieut CRABBE continued down the trench until brought up against a barrier behind which Germans had collected: at this point all rifles except one of the party with Lieut CRABBE were out of action. 
In the meantime Sgt. Pattersons platoon occupied the rear face of sap to guard against counterattack. Sgt. Major Lloyd (C. 1501) & 1 platoon attacked & demolished the parapet for about 30 yds. 
After some 20 minutes occupation of the trench combined with work in demolishing the parapet, orders were given for the attackers to withdraw. 
The withdrawal was successfully carried out though daylight was rapidly appearing. 
4. The attack was carried out with considerable dash notwithstanding the fact that the men had been for six weeks employed in trenches under not very favourable conditions. 
The attack was gallantly led by Lieut CRABBE who was well supported by Corpl. NOURSE (C.B. 172) and the snipers and by Lieut. PAPINEAU & the bomb throwers. 
5. Major HAMILTON GAULT and Lieut (W.G.) COLQUHOUN had previously carried out a reconnaissance in the neighbourhood of the German sap, and brought back valuable information regarding the enemy’s trenches. Lieut COLQUHOUN went out a second time but never returned. 
6. Casualties. 
Killed. 5 other ranks.
Wounded. Major Gault. Lieut CRABBE and 7 other ranks. 
Missing. Lieut COLQUHOUN and two others. 

Total. 5 Killed. 9 wounded & 2 missing. 

Original diagram of the German defences at St. Eloi based on aerial reconnaissance. It was prepared on 26 February 1915 and was published in the PPCLI War Diary.

Appendix XV. 

1580. Feb’y 28th AAA. I heartily congratulate you and your gallant men on your successful operations this morning. AAA Please express to Lieut Crabbe and the party he led my Great Appreciation of their services x Repeated 2nd Army and 5th Corps. 



Following message from fifth Corps received begins The Corps Commander has great pleasure in transmitting to You the following Message from Second Army Nine Eighteen A.m. AAA Begins The Army Commander wishes You to Express to the P.P.C.L.I. his appreciation of the grand piece of work performed by them this morning ends. 



GENERAL PLUMER wires please give my heartiest Congratulations to the P.P.C.L.I. on their gallant (inserted: and) useful Expoit. 



Well done P.P.C. Congratulations on Your splendid work

GEN’L SNOW. 10.30 A.M.


Twenty Eight Division wires hearty Congratulations. 



Heartiest Congratulations on Success last night.

1st CANADIAN. DIVISION. 10.15. A.m. 


"The Three Muskateers of Princess Patricia's Own" by Samuel Begg 
(Originally published in the London Illustrated News)