Friday, 27 February 2015


The early days of trench warfare took the Patricia's by surprise. It took them some time to adjust to their new surroundings. So confident were these Canadian men who had conquered the unforgiving conditions of the wilderness back home, they lived off the land, skilled hunters, they learned from the natives, with survival skills ranked them among the elite fighters but they could never have envisioned war being fought under these conditions and were stunned at the distance and accuracy of the German artillery and fire power. It took them some time to understand how to fight this insane idea of warfare and in the first weeks they spent much of their time in defensive mindset under cover until they could gain confidence to fight against this kind of enemy that none had ever experienced before.  They were outranked by the German weapons in which the telescopic capability and construction was well ahead of its times. Snipers with the keenest of eyes needed to compete with the German capabilities…..Conditions were more primitive than in any war preceding in modern times. 

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

By late February, the relentless hardships were wearing on the men. The steady loss of soldiers killed, wounded and otherwise disabled from sickness and exposure was a worrisome problem not only for the Patricias but throughout the Allied army.

The war, as designed by German General Staff, was to have been won by now but the German Commander’s Schlieffen Plan failed. A swift triumph in France followed by an aggressive campaign on the Russian front would have put an early end to the war. However, the French retreated and fortified, denying the Germans their decisive battle. Each cautiously and defensively dug into the earth. In preparation for the ultimate breakthrough, complete with cavalry charge, both sides set up temporary strongholds with machine gun nests and screens of barbed wire protection. The advancement of deadly technology contributed to the stalemate on the battlefield and the victorious breakthrough was elusive for both sides. No one could have predicted how deeply settled they would become in a kind of terrifying warfare no one had ever seen before. After the shocking losses of the first several months of battle, both sides were that much more determined to vindicate their fallen comrades and fight stubbornly for their honour at an impossible cost. “I don’t know what is to be done." said Lord Kitchener, the British War Secretary, in early 1915, "This isn't war."

 c1915 PPCLI Trench; PPCLI Museum and Archives P30(300)-1
With the expectation of a short-lived conflict and minimal casualties, nobody had given much thought to the issue of reinforcements and in fact there was no system in place at all in the winter of 1915 for bringing in fresh troops. Yet in only six weeks of warfare the situation was already becoming critical for the Patricias. Entrenched in a very difficult sector, the losses were devastating with seventy casualties, including five officers. Even worse were the crippling numbers of sick soldiers out of the line. When Agar Adamson arrived with his draft the Regiment was close to four hundred men under strength. The arrival of the draft brought the numbers up to 700 but this had completely depleted the reserves. Any subsequent drafts of Canadian troops would be distributed to the 1st Canadian Division and new battalions of men were being reserved for a 2nd Division. The Regiment was just able to sustain itself with small drafts of men cleverly procured from a variety of sources throughout the winter.

Col Farquhar showed initiative by devising a system of replacing officers that would soon become Regimental tradition. Against convention, he began recommending men from the ranks for commissions within their own unit. Five such men were commissioned in January and February, three of whom rose to field rank and were decorated. Uniquely, hardly an officer who had served with the Regiment had served in the field with any other unit than the Patricias and in most cases they had risen from the ranks.