The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was formed on August 10th, 1914 by a British-born Montreal millionaire named A. Hamilton Gault, who had pledged CD$ 100,000 to raise in Canada a regiment of men with prior military experience to serve in the British Army. Gault got Crown approval for this venture from the Governor General of Canada, Prince Arthur the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (a brother of King Edward VII), and Connaught’s daughter, HRH the Princess Patricia was named the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief and patroness, since the Duke was already the titular head of a couple of regiments.
Gault had a background of military service, including action in the South African War (1899-1902) and he was named the second-in-command of the new regiment (later becoming the CO), was wounded twice and lost a leg.
Thus was born what would be the last unit in the history of British service that was raised by private subscription. When created the PPCLI was unusual in that it wasn’t exactly British and it wasn’t exactly Canadian, as it wasn’t under the control of Sir Sam Hughes’ Ministry of Militia and Defence. The PPCLI were the first Canadians to fight on the Western Front, beginning on January 6th, 1915, and they served with the British 80th Brigade until December, when they were absorbed by the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Some important milestones in the regiment’s history:
- At the battle of Frezenburg Ridge on May 8th, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, the PPCLI stopped a German breakthrough, losing half of their strength, including the CO Lieut. Col. FD Farqhar (killed) and Maj. Gault (wounded), and by the end was commanded by a lieutenant, Hugh Niven, whose message ‘holding up the whole damn line’ became a famous quote and a motto of the regiment;
- Members of the regiment received three Victoria Crosses in WW1;
- Pvt. Guy Dwyer of the PPCLI was the first Canadian casualty of WW1;
- A few Americans managed to get into the PPCLI. One was 487429 Pvt. Henry Augustus Coit (1888-1916), born in New Hampshire but at his enlistment he claimed to be British. He died on August 7th, 1916 and is buried at Lijssenthoek Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Belgium;
- Volunteers from the PPCLI served in Siberia as the 260th Bn. CEF in 1919 and
- Much later, in 1951 the 2nd battalion PPCLI greatly distinguished itself at the Battle of Kapyong, Korea, for which the regiment received a US Presidential Unit Citation, a rare award to a non-US unit.
Familiarly know as ‘the Patricias’, the regiment still exists in the Canadian Forces, with three active battalions and one of reservists (this unit is also known as the Loyal Edmonton Regiment).