Wednesday, 30 September 2015


The Patricias were given the respite they needed over the summer of 1915 with the most peaceful period of the war on the Western Front. The priority now was on re-establishing the Regiment. After the devastating losses in May 1915 many feared the Regiment would be disbanded. 

Major Raymond Pelly, returned from sick leave on May 18th, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and took over command from Lieutenant Niven. Pelly was the third member of the Governor General's staff to command the Patricia's. He now faced a critical situation. If the Regiment was to survive there would need to be a reliable and steady source of reinforcements. 

When the Regiment was founded it was made clear to Hamilton Gault and Francis Farquhar there would be no provision from the Canadian Government for reinforcements for PPCLI. As a privately raised regiment the Patricias were responsible for acquiring their own replacements for casualties. Prime Minister Borden was not particularly interested in depleting his own supply of men needed for the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

At the outset, the issue of reinforcements wasn't of great concern. The common sentiment was that the war would last no more than a few months. They certainly hadn't anticipated the horror that awaited them. With heavy losses throughout the winter and spring of 1915 though, came a constant anxiety about the Regiment's future. At times, small drafts of men from various Canadian sources had been brought in to help with numbers but they had been difficult to obtain and it was unlikely they would receive enough support from the Canadian government to sustain the Regiment. The Canadian Divisions were also in dire need of additional troops as casualties exceeded six thousand after the Second Battle of Ypres.

The initial response in Canada to the losses at Ypres was a dramatic surge of patriotism. Talbot Papineau wrote,  "...what a glorious history they will have made for Canada. These may be the birth pangs of our nationality." A striking change in the style of recruiting posters appeared, evolving from the Imperial Lion of 1914 to the posters of the summer of 1915 appealing to Canadian pride. The primary concern for the Canadian government now was to bring in enough new recruits to maintain the First Division at full strength and prepare a third division for deployment.

Canadian Recruiting Poster 1914 
Canadian Recruiting Poster 1915 

Lt. Col. Pelly's objective during the summer of 1915 was to reorganize the battalion. Many of the lightly wounded had been able to return to the Regiment at the end of May and with an additional 450 soldiers brought in from other Canadian battalions in England the Patricias were becoming a robust unit again. Meanwhile, an important idea had been developing with some of Hamilton Gault's friends from Montreal to resolve the Regiment's critical problem of reinforcements.

Three prominent Montreal businessmen, all alumni of McGill University, George C. McDonald, George Selkirk Currie and Percival Molson, drafted a unique proposal for Minister of Militia and Defence, Sir Sam Hughes. Contrived in April 1915, the proposal detailed a plan to recruit an infantry company from university men and their friends specifically with the goal of reinforcing the Patricias. The idea was approved. The Student's Union at McGill became the main mobilization centre and, as such, the 'University Companies PPCLI Reinforcements' were often referred to as the 'McGill Companies'. Universities from across Canada, however, answered the call and supported the initiative with undergraduates, graduates and even professors. By July 1915 the first of the University Companies arrived in France and joined the Patricias at rest in the quiet sector of Armentieres. With another company arriving shortly after, the Regiment was back up to full strength by the first of September. The response to join was so enthusiastic that by October 1916 over 1300 men in six consecutive companies had joined the Regiment. This brilliant scheme had saved the Regiment from collapse. 

2nd University Company C.E.F. Reinforcements P.P.C.L.I. (Click to enlarge) 

P30(138.1)-1 Armentiers (1915) Courtesy of PPCLI Museum and Archives