The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry

Play episode
Hosted by

You can donate to Canadian History Ehx at

Over the course of this podcast series, I will not look in depth at the various regiments and battalions that took part in the war often. Of course, with this second episode of the show, I feel I cannot continue without looking at the first group of soldiers to go overseas, and a regiment formed in direct response to the war. That regiment still exists to this day and has received 39 battle honours. It is the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and I am looking at its formation at the start of the war. I will not be looking at its service through the war, as I will be touching on that extensively in my episodes on battles and other incidents. This episode is more to show how quickly things came together, and it will cover from Aug. 6, 1914 to Jan. 6, 1915, when the regiment became the first Canadian infantry unit to land in France.

To look at the history of this regiment, we first need to look at the man who created it, Captain Andrew Hamilton Gault. Born in 1882 in Kent, England, he would attend McGill University in preparation for taking science at Oxford. Instead of taking that route, he would join the Second Royal Canadian Dragoons to serve in the Boer Wars. While there, he would earn the Queen’s Medal with three clasps. Upon his return to Canada, he was made the Consul-General of Sweden in Canada in 1909 and served as a member of the Montreal Board of Trade from 1911 to 1913. Prior to the start of the war, Lord Strathcona would raise the Strathcona’s Horse. Inspired by this, Gault would follow suit after the outbreak of the war, offering the Canadian government $100,000, or $2.2 million today, to help raise and equip an infantry battalion for service overseas. This would make the Patricia’s the last privately raised regiment in Canada.

The first offer Gault made to Minister Sam Hughes was to create a cavalry unit, which was Gault’s preferred arm of service, but Hughes convinced him to create an infantry unit instead.

The government would temporarily accept the offer on Aug. 6, 1914. The Montreal Gazette would report that the regiment was being Gault, describing him as the first Canadian in the present war to follow in the steps of Lord Strathcona. It also speculated that the regiment would be known as Gault’s Light Infantry.

The regiment was officially authorized it four days later Aug. 10 with a charter signed by Minister Hughes.

Working with Lt. Colonel Francis Farquhar, the military secretary to Canada’s Governor General, the Duke of Connaught, Gault made the decision to recruit men who had military experience but were not attached to a militia unit at the time. This decision was made because it would allow for the quick departure of the regiment to Europe.

It is from the Governor General that the regiment would receive its name. His daughter, Princess Patricia of Connaught, was widely known for her support of the wilderness and people of Canada. Colonel Farquhar approached the Governor General for permission to name the regiment after his daughter. The Princess was apparently delighted by the idea and approved of it. She was not only serving of the namesake for the regiment, but she would also design the regimental flag and make the first flag by hand. She would serve as the regiment’s first Colonel in Chief, a role she would have until her death on Jan. 12, 1974.

The flag she designed would become known as the Ric-A-Dam-Doo, and the regimental song would reference it, stating quote:

“Our Rik-A-Dam-Doo, pray what is that?

Twas made at home by Princess Pat

Tis Red and Gold and Royal Blue

That’s what we call our Rik-A-Dam-Doo.”

As for how the flag got that name, it is not known for sure, but it is believed to be based on a Gaelic phrase for “Cloth for our mother”. The original Ric-A-Dam-Doo would survive the war and stay in service until 1922 when it was replaced with a replica. The original also features several bullet holes in it. According to legend, the soldier entrusted with carrying the standard was killed by a shell. Later in the battle, another Patricia’s member was carrying the standard. He then stood on the edge of the trench to alert the regiment to regroup and began waving the flag. The Germans then started shooting at it, not hitting the soldier, but putting several holes in the fabric.

Another, possibly more likely story, is that an officer got drunk and fired his service pistol into the air one night in the trenches, hitting the standard.

The Light Infantry part of the name came upon the suggestion of Gault, who in his service during the Second Boer War had heard the term and felt that it gave the impression of an irregular force that he liked.

Wasting no time, Farquhar and Gault moved quickly to build the regiment. On Aug. 11, the day after they received authorization, an aggressive recruitment campaign was started. The campaign benefited heavily from the huge patriotic spirit running through the country, which I touched on in the last episode. By Aug. 18, 3,000 applicants had been recruited, of which 1,098 would be selected. Of those, 1,049 had served in either the Boer Wars or the British Army at some point. Farquhar was chosen as the first commander of the battalion. This was no regiment made up of untrained volunteers, the original members had valuable combat experience. In the words of the official history of the regiment, the original members were quote:

“Prospectors, trappers, guides, cow-punchers, prize fighters, farmers, professional and businessmen, above all old soldiers.”

The Ottawa Citizen would report on Aug. 11, that quote:

“Every man of the battalion will be either a South African veteran or a man who has had active service with the imperial forces. Volunteers are coming from all over Canada and the battalion, it is said, will be one of the very finest which has ever marched forth in any war.”

The average age of the regiment, owing to the military experience in the Boer War by so many, was 36 years old. It was estimated by the Ottawa Citizen that half of the regiment had been in the Boer War. One man, named Private E. Edwards of Toronto, was interviewed about his experience and he replied that he had served in the Boer War with the Gordon Highlanders. He then added that six other men in the regiment had served with that regiment as well. The regiment also featured several, “birdmen” as they were called, but what we would call pilots today. The Legion of Frontiersmen joined up as a body, as did the members of the Edmonton Police Pipe Band. The make up of this first regiment of soldiers was 65 per cent English, 15 per cent Scottish, 10 per cent Irish and the rest made up of other nationalities.

One individual who helped to raise volunteers was R.B. Bennett, the future prime minister of Canada from 1930 to 1935. He also wanted to accompany the Calgary soldiers of the regiment himself but since he had no military training, the only position he could occupy was paymaster. Bennett would have a long talk with Colonel Farquhar, and instead made arrangements for recruitment and he would help to share the cost with other wealthy individuals from Montreal.

On Aug. 12, the Edmonton detachment of the Princess Patricia Light Infantry, amounting to about 300 people. That night, 130 left for Calgary and would proceed to Montreal, while the remainder would go to Ottawa. On Aug. 15, the 300 would be gathered in Ottawa. The Captain of the Edmonton regiment was J. McKinnery, who had served in the Boer War. It was said he went straight into the recruiting office and enlisted.  One man, identified as only King, walked 90 miles to enlist in the regiment, while others were said to have walked as much as 100 to 120 miles. The Edmonton detachment, like so many others in the war, quickly found that Canadians were highly generous when they had the patriotic spirit. The Edmonton volunteers had no blankets when they enlisted, but the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Revillion Wholesale in Edmonton all supplied the detachment with blankets to use. A large quantity of tobacco and a pipe was also provided for all the men in the detachment.

Two days later, 63 residents of Saskatoon left the city to travel to Ottawa after a brief stop over in Winnipeg to meet with other troops for the regiment. Before they left, huge crowds wished them well. The Saskatoon Daily Star writes, quote:

“An immense crowd followed the parade from the armory and by the time the corner of 20th Street and Second Avenue was reached, the street was packed with most of the population of the city. As the men marched up the main street, the windows in all the buildings were filled with interested people and crowds of men and women on the street corners and on the steps of stores and banks cheered the soldiers as they passed.”

Joining the Saskatoon men would be 10 men from Prince Albert who had also enlisted with the regiment.

The same day that the troops were leaving Saskatoon, the first troops for the regiment were arriving in Ottawa, with more groups coming in over the subsequent days. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the Colonel Farquhar expected the men to be mobilized within the week and ready to go overseas.

Tailors in Ottawa were quick to get to work on uniforms. The Citizen would report, quote:

“A number of city tailors worked Saturday night making changes in the uniform so that they would fit well, and their splendid appearance shows the effects of this work. The men have been issued with great coats.”

On Aug. 23, in Ottawa, the regiment held a formal parade and Princess Patricia would present the regiment standard. The flag she designed would be carried in every action that the regiment was involved in during the First World War.

She would tell the regiment, upon presenting the flag, quote:

“I have great pleasure in presenting to you this color, which I have worked myself. I hope it will be associated with the history of what I feel is a distinguished corps. I shall follow the fortunes of you all with intense interest and wish every man good luck and safe return.”

Colonel Farquhar would respond, quote:

“In the name of every officer and man, may I express the great gratification we feel at Your Royal Highness presence here. The fact that you should have attended the first parade of the battalion and that you should have been accompanied by The Duchess and Princess Patricia gives us that touch of honest pride and confidence which does so much to make up the spirit of the corps in any regiment.”

The Governor General, the Duke of Connaught, was also on hand and would tell the troops, quote:

“It affords me great pleasure to be present and to think that the first parade of the battalion is a church parade.”

Many prominent individuals, apart from members of the Royal Family, were also on hand for the parade including cabinet ministers from Parliament and even Sir Robert Borden, the prime minister of Canada.

At the time, Canada was dealing with wartime shortages as the war effort ramped up. To obtain weapons for the regiment, several sources were used. The private soldiers would carry the .303 Ross Rifle, while non-commissioned officers and officers would carry the 1914 .45 M1911 Pistol.

As a reward for organizing the regiment, Gault would be commissioned as a major in the regiment, and his wife would join him overseas, choosing to serve in the British Red Cross.

On Aug. 28, the regiment would leave Ottawa and boarded the SS Megantic in Montreal. The regiment would only make it to Levis, Quebec due to increased German activity in the Atlantic Ocean. On Aug. 31, the Ottawa Journal announced that publicity was given as the reason the Patricia’s disembarking in Quebec and the worry of the Germans knowing the movements of the ship through news reports. It was announced that it was unlikely the public would know when the ship decided to finally set sail for Europe.

While in Levis, the regiment would begin to test the Ross rifle and they would issue the first report of the suitability of the rifle for combat, which would later be found to be unsuitable for trench warfare due to its lack of primary extraction, its length, and the close chamber tolerances, along with the poor-quality ammunition issued. Within three years, the rifle would be removed from service, but the regiment would abandon it within only a few weeks upon their arrival in England.

On Sept. 27, the regiment left from Quebec City on the Royal George, bound for England. During the trip overseas aboard the Royal George, the regiment organized a concert and theatre program to help pass the time.

The regiment would arrive at their camp on the Salisbury Plain in England on Oct. 18, stationed at Bustard Camp near Stonehenge. Before long, British authorities saw that the Patricia’s were a well-trained unit that could go into the field already. The regiment also enjoyed not being under the control of the Canadian government. Lt. Hugh Niven, one of the regiment commanders, would write later that the regiment did not trust Minister Sam Hughes and they did everything they could to stay out of the control of the minister. He would say quote:

“We were Canadians, but we were different. We did not train with other Canadians in Canada or as a matter of fact did, we train with any Canadians in England. We were a battalion apart.”

The following information relating to dates comes from the regiment’s war diary. While I will not go into all the days, I will look at various days that give a glimpse in the life of the soldiers through the rest of the year.

On Nov. 4, 1914, the regiment was inspected by the King and Queen of England, as well as Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener. While that event would make the men feel on top of the world, the next day they were back to digging trenches and marching. According to the Edmonton Journal the following day, Lord Kitchener described the Princess Pat’s as fine fellows. He would also say, after seeing so many medal ribbons on the soldiers from the Boer War, quote:

“Now I know where all my old soldiers have got to.”

In a letter published by the Journal on Nov. 5 from a soldier who was not identified, it says, quote:

“We are in camp once more and very comfortably situated, all our tents have wooden floors in them and each man has five blankets and a rubber sheet, so we are not in any way neglected.”

After speaking about Colonel Farquhar meeting with Lord Kitchener, the soldier relates the following, quote:

“We motor into Salisbury in the afternoon and do a little shopping and come back about 11 and really enjoy ourselves as the roads are perfect. The colonel has just brought us news that a number of gentlemen in London have offered their motor cars for the use of our officers while we are in England.”

On Nov. 14, the regiment was given orders to move to Winchester.

On Nov. 16, the unit joined the 80th Brigade of the British Expeditionary Force at Winchester.

On Nov. 25, the regiment was inspected by Major General Snow, who commanded the British 27th Division.

On Dec. 4, the regiment worked on firing at the shooting ranges, and they would see their Ross Rifle replaced with the Lee Enfield Rifle, which many of the soldiers were happy about.

On Dec. 20, the regiment left with the rest of the 80th Brigade at the Port of Southampton, heading towards France. The next day, the regiment left the dock at 1:25 p.m., through rain showers for the entire day. Upon their arrival on Dec. 21 in France, the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry became the first Canadian infantry unit on the battlefield, and were only beaten there by another Canadian group, the First Canadian Medical Corps. By landing in France, the Patricia’s were the first and only Canadian infantry regiment to serve in the theatre of war during 1914.

On Dec. 24, the troops spent Christmas Eve following an officer who did not know the way to the Blaringhem Village, which took many hours to reach despite only being a distance of seven miles. Upon arrival at the village, they were told the Brigade Headquarters was two miles back along the road they had just been on. It took until 6 a.m. for all the regiment troops to finally reach their billet station.

Corporal Gordon Carling would describe Christmas Eve as such, quote:

“Rain and sleet enveloped the whole front and at best our Christmas Eve was miserable enough. None of the boys were downhearted though and we made the best of things.”

Christmas Day was not a day of celebration for the troops. They spent their day overhauling packing of transports, with no Christmas comforts available. A journalist would send a wire stating that the troops had engaged with the Germans, which had to be taken back by the Ottawa Journal on Jan. 6, 1915. It would state that it received a special cable from London, which stated quote:

“Your correspondent has just returned from a visit to Northern France. The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment has not yet been in action. They are now billeted about 15 miles from the firing line but will shortly move into the reserve trenches and should see fighting soon. More wasted cable tolls we contend.”

Corporal Carling would relate later in a letter home, quote:

“We spent Christmas Day in support.”

Back home in Canada, the Saskatoon Daily Star reported on Dec. 29, that the first reinforcements for the Princess Patricia’s had been requested, amounting to 10 per cent of the battalion’s strength. The paper speculated that this was because either the regiment had suffered losses, or that it was about to engage the Germans. We know now that it was because the regiment was about to face the Germans for the first time early in 1915. The newspaper reported, quote:

“The orders ask the commanding officer of troops here to nominate the battalion a captain, two lieutenants, five sergeants, a bugler, five corporals, five lance corporals and 109 privates.”

On Jan. 1, as a new year dawned, the troops were inspected by Sir John French, as the rain poured down on them all day.

On Jan. 6, 1915, the regiment entered the trenches for the first time, at a location called Dickiebush by the British troops. With this momentous day for the troops, I will relate some of what the diary said directly, quote:

“Lack of boots much felt many men marching with no soles at all to their boots…Arrived at Dickiebush and rested until 5 p.m. When the right half battalion under Major Gault took over the two sections on the right, time was lost owing to no guides having been provided by the French. Taking over completed at midnight without incident. Trenches were found to be in a very waterlogged condition, no braisers and few dugouts. Distance from German line 40 yards on our left, 200 yards on our right.”

According to the Regina Leader-Post in a cable from Europe, a British officer stated that the Patricia’s had splendid discipline in France. The officer would state quote:

“This front has become a battle of inches and the slightest advance made out of the general scheme endangers our whole front. We were afraid the Canadians, in their enthusiasm would carry out the rush tactics they employed so effectively in South Africa, but which would be fatal here. But the Patricia’s, rank and file, have shown themselves steady and their officers well trained.”

Thus began the regiments stay in France, which would see them participate in some of the most important battles of the war including Ypres, Vimy, Passchendaele, Canal du Nord, and the Somme. Along the way, two soldiers would earn the Victoria Cross and the regiment would receive 19 Battle Honours. Of the 5,000 men who would serve with the regiment over the course of the First World War, 1,300 never returned home to Canada.

Lt. Col Francis Farquhar

Each episode of Canada’s Great War, I am going to look at a soldier who served in the First World War. It may be a regular soldier who never made many headlines, or a noted individual who gathered several medals. For this episode, considering its on the Princess Patricia’s, I chose to look at Lt. Col. Francis D. Farquhar, the first commanding officer of the regiment.

Born on Sept. 1, 1874 in England,

Graduating from Eton College, he was fluent in English, Somali, French and Mandarin

He would go on to serve in the Boer War, receiving the Distinguished Service Order and the Legion of Honour. During the war, he would serve with the Coldstream Guards.

The brother of an officer in the Coldstream Guards would write about Farquhar following his death, quote:

“Very early in his military career he gave up many of the amusements and distractions of the circle in which he was placed and devoted himself heart and soul to the more serious side of his profession. In South Africa and in Somaliland, he sought brave enjoyment across the world to find alas the glorious grave which George Herbert writes of, like so many of his friends and contemporaries on Belgian soil.”

In 1905, he would marry Lady Evelyn Hely-Hutchinson, the daughter of the Earl of Donoughmore.

In October 1913, Farquhar had come to Ottawa to serve as the military secretary of the Duke of Connaught. Within the capital, he quickly became a popular figure in official and social circles.

On March 21, 1915 at 2:30 a.m. during the Battle of St. Eloi, Farquhar was mortally wounded. He would be buried the following day next to other officers of the Princess Patricia’s, as per his request. According to news reports, five staff officers and 20 soldiers of the regiment were being shelled by the Germans during the service.

On March 22, 1915, the cable came into the newspapers of Canada, stating quote:

“Colonel Farquhar dead, Lt. Martin of Patricia’s dead. Same regiment lost three killed and 20 wounded.”

Major Gault would write to the Ottawa Journal, stating quote:

“He fell by a stray bullet at night while inspecting some earthworks. The question of the command of the battalion is now admirably settled in the appointment of Buller. He will make a splendid commanding officer.”

Lt. Newton would go into greater detail, stating that Col. Farquhar had been shot in the chest by a bullet while going through wire entanglements and suffered for three hours before he died.

On March 23, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden would speak in the House of Commons, stating quote:

“It is with deep and unfeigned sorrow that we have heard the news of his untimely death. Of all the able men who have filled the position of secretary to the Governor General of Canada, I do not know of anyone who has performed his duties more proficiently or who has more thoroughly endeared himself to the Canadian people than did Col. Farquhar. I know that all the honourable members of the House will join with me in an expression of our deep sorrow for the loss which the Empire has sustained and in a message of sympathy to those whom he has left behind.”

On March 29, a service was held in London, attended by Lady Farquhar, Major Gault, Major Murray, and Sir Ronald Lane.

On June 22, 1915, the London Gazette reported that Farquhar had been mentioned in dispatches prior to his death.

To honour his sacrifice, British Columbia honoured him by naming Mount Farquhar, which is located on the British Columbia-Alberta Border, for him.

Information comes from PPCLI Museum, Wikipedia, Canadian Armed Forces, PPCLI War Diaries 1914-1919, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, the Ottawa Citizen, Saskatoon Daily Star, Windsor Star, Winnipeg Tribune, Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, The British Empire,

Liked it? Take a second to support CraigBaird on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Reply

More from this show

Canadian History Ehx

Recent posts

%d bloggers like this: