On February 3rd the Regiment marched to a new area east of St. Eloi and took over the trenches from the York and Lancaster Regiment. They moved headquarters from the heavily shelled and badly damaged Voormezeele to Shelley Farm.
Hamilton Gault wrote to his friend Percival Campbell, "The d--d old Huns found our H.Q. the day before yesterday - we thought it was too well hidden behind a wood for that! - and put 4 or 5 shells through. It was quite unnecessary of them to do this for the house had been barely touched before and we were extremely comfortably settled, Fanny (Farquhar), Buller and I in one room on mattresses with a table and chairs; our servants in another; the trench guides in a third; and the H.Q. men in the cellars".
After each few days in the trenches the men were relieved and marched 3 km back to Dickebusch or on to Heksken, a small town approximately 12km from the front for rest. The bitter weather continued and the trenches, badly damaged from the driving rain, again were positioned on low ground. Lt Col Farquhar noted the unsanitary conditions with the bodies of french soldiers strewn across the rear ground. The trenches were wet and unsafe with too many dugouts against the thinned parapets, which on some had crumbled away completely. Wherever possible the men worked to drain and repair their defences but success was limited.
Map of St. Eloi trench system, 1915 (click to enlarge)
Map of St. Eloi and Voormezeele Region, 1915 (click to enlarge)
Back on Salisbury Plain at the Reinforcement Depot at Tidworth, Agar Adamson was desperately trying to join the Regiment in Belgium. Much to his dismay, he had been ordered to stay behind to train a draft of 500 men from Canada. Unfortunately, he had made an enemy of the one man who could send him there, his Commanding Officer, Colonel James. James was an old school disciplinarian and made Adamson's life on the Plain miserable.
In spite of Farquhar's request to have Adamson brought to the front and command the new draft, James put his foot down and refused to allow him to go. We know from a comment of Mabel's that Col James and General Alderson were "very bitter" about the glamour and mystique attached to the PPCLI and seemed to take delight in dismantling the unit. When the new draft had arrived in January, James, with imperious authority, had them transferred over to a group of general Canadian reinforcements. Adamson himself was separated from the Regiment and placed with other surplus Canadian officers. He was furious. He wrote to Mabel, "This is the last straw. I have written and protested, but James wrote back that any suggestion from me is out of order."
Adamson send an urgent message to Farquhar who returned immediately to sort out the situation with the top brass at the War Office. James had denied Farquhar's request to send him to London to meet with Farquhar so Adamson disguised and smuggled his most trusted NCO, Sergeant A.B. Cork, out of camp and sent him to London with a long memo delivered to Farquhar by Mabel herself. Thanks to Farquhar's efforts the situation was resolved favourably for Adamson and the draft.
Tuesday, February 9th, 1915.
My dear Mabel,
The C.O. saw James yesterday but could get no satisfaction out of him, so we motored to Salisbury and saw the General of the Southern Command, net result being that all my actions, telegrams and official letters were upheld and approved of. We are to be made (are being made today) a separate and complete unit of our own, self-contained with Barracks, Officers' Mess, Store Rooms, Orderly Rooms, etc., all our own, that we are not to be removed from Tidworth, all the other Canadians are going to Lark Hill in huts in the mud very shortly. The C.O. tried to get us put directly under the Southern Command and free from James. This he could not work, but is seeing the War Office today and hopes to be able to arrange it. We don't move for 10 days.
I am to take three of the new officers to London very soon to show them how to buy kit and get 3 days leave.
I am to command the draft of 130 men and 2 officers to pick my own officers, am 2nd in Command of the 500 men here and have to re-organize these tomorrow into 2 companies, appoint a Quartermaster, Adjutant, Paymaster, etc., etc.
The C.O. and I got back from Salisbury at 7:30 last night. He gave a "Talk on the war” to all Roger's officers, plus the 14 P.P.C.L.I. He then took each officer one by one and looked him over alone forming his own opinion; this took till 1 in the morning. He slept in a bunk in my room, it was past two when we had thrashed out how he would like the new offices planned. At 7 this morning he inspected the 500 men, talking to each. He came back to my room, wrote two very important letters, had breakfast and caught the 9:30 train.
He inspected the old lot left with me yesterday, the men all thought he was in France. When he came on parade the men gave him 3 great cheers. James was so angry he ordered all the men put under arrest (afterwards cancelled).
The C.O. shook hands with every one of my men and had a word to say to each. If we once can get out of James clutches everything will go beautifully.
I feel a positive wreck this morning, a sort of reaction I suppose after the strain of the last two weeks. It is difficult to always do the right thing when you have a little beast like James trying to catch you up at every turn. If it had only been a personal affair it would have been quite different, but a great part of the welfare of the Regiment was at stake.
Goodbye old girl, thank you for a very nice letter.
|Members of the 500 draft, Tidworth, January 1915|