Lansdowne and the Princess Pats

By Clyde Sanger

Well now, a new era is beginning for us Glebites. With all the frou-ha-ha attending the opening of new buildings at Lansdowne, the stadium with the enormous scoreboard, Bank Street’s twin towers (perhaps not a very good term) and the stores that will someday open, there is one thing missing: a bit of history. On August 23 this year, we Glebites just might want to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Lansdowne parade that marked the founding of the famed Princess Pats.

Hamilton Gault, founder of the Princess Pats regiment PHOTOs: courtesy of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment

Hamilton Gault, founder of the Princess Pats regiment
PHOTO: Courtesy of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment

It’s a story of two energetic young men and one neat (in every sense) princess, and the beginnings of the PPCLI (or Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.) The two men had both fought in the Boer War, but they did not know each other until Frank Farquhar arrived in Ottawa as military secretary to the Governor-General, who was the Duke of Connaught and a younger son of Queen Victoria. He also happened to be a senior Field Marshal, so had the pick of the brightest soldiers in the British Army for his Ottawa staff. He chose Lt. Col Francis Farquhar, who had collected a DSO for bravery in South Africa.

Early on in his years here (1911-17), the Duke travelled to Montreal and went to see the opera La Bohème. His host was Andrew Hamilton Gault, whose family was among the richest in town. So Gault was drawn into the vice-regal world, and made friends with Farquhar and the duke’s younger daughter, Princess Patricia. (Please don’t ask how a duke’s daughter can be a princess. Look it up in Burke’s Peerage.)

Came the crazy summer of 1914, the wild-eyed Gavrilo Princip shooting off in Sarajevo and the Austrians avenging their dead arch-duke, and the whole pack of Europe’s cards starting to tumble. Gault saw the signs, smelled war and talked to his friends in Rideau Hall. Raising a private regiment? Gault said he’d put up $100,000 to recruiting and equipping one. The GG cheered and was even smiling when Farquhar said he’d leave his job and join up. The Canadian military hierarchy were a bit sniffy – a privately raised regiment? – but at length came on side.

Recruiting after Canada entered the war alongside Britain on August 4 was a mad rush, especially from western Canada. A “Legion of Frontiersmen” from Moose Jaw hijacked a train; while prominent men like Talbot Papineau came from Quebec. Farquhar volunteered to command the regiment, and Gault became second-in-command. Within three weeks enough men had been accepted to form the regiment: most had military experience in British units, and fewer than one in 10 had been born in Canada.

And – the point of this article – they rallied at Lansdowne Park on August 23 and held a church parade, archbishop and all, in front of a large crowd who knew the troops were due to leave on a train for a ship bound for England the next day. In the middle of it all was the beautiful princess, 28 years old, holding out the flag she had designed and embroidered. It was the “camp colour” that went with the 27 officers and 956 other ranks when they crossed to France just before Christmas.

Princess Patricia presenting the colours to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment at Lansdowne on August 1914, just before they were to board a ship for England at the beginning of World War I. PHOTO:  Courtesy of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment

Princess Patricia presenting the colours to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment at Lansdowne on August 1914, just before they were to board a ship for England at the beginning of World War I. PHOTO: Courtesy of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment

They were the first Canadian unit “in the field”, as the title of Gault’s biography proclaims. They saw action at St Eloi, Ypres, Sanctuary Wood, Passendaele – and “went over the top” at Vimy Ridge, while a company fought its way into Mons in November 1918 on the day before the Armistice. At least three commanding officers including Farquhar were killed by German shelling. Three soldiers from the regiment won the Victoria Cross.

Lt Col Hamilton Gault, many times wounded, was commanding officer in March 1919 when the regiment arrived back in Ottawa and paraded through the streets to Lansdowne Park for a final dismissal. Princess Patricia, by then the commander-in chief, was there to receive the colours. Because of high casualties demanding turnover in those 4½ years, 229 officers and 4,857 other ranks had served in the PPCLI and it was a truly Canadian force.
How is all their heroism and service remembered? A stiff-looking statue of Hamilton Gault guards the National Arts Centre; a memorial plaque to Princess Patricia, honorary colonel until her death in 1974 is in St Batholomew’s church in New Edinburgh; and a sandstone slab memorial to the Princess Pats and its two parades at Lansdowne has stood near the Aberdeen Pavilion. Let’s hope it is still there and honoured today.

Clyde Sanger is a military history buff and a longtime Glebite and contributor to the Glebe Report.

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