Gault’s Light Infantry: Raising the Patricias in 1914

For over a century, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry has been one of the most celebrated regiments in Canadian history, in part for its earned reputation as “first in the field.” [1] Privately founded and raised by Montreal businessman A. Hamilton Gault, the regiment would bear the name of the Governor-General’s daughter, Princess Patricia. In an effort to “be in the field within weeks,” however, the requirements for recruitment were strict and only the best would be selected. [2]

Image: Princess Patricia reviewing the P.P.C.L.I. at Bramshott before her marriage. Courtesy Library and Archives Canada, PA-006105.

On August 10th, 1914, Gault and Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defence, signed the regimental charter authorizing the raising of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Unlike other charters, however, this one established Gault’s personal financial commitment of one hundred thousand dollars- over 2 million dollars today. The following day, recruiting posters appeared across the country as hundreds of recruits poured into Ottawa to enlist their services. Gault and the regiment’s commander Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Douglas Farquhar were looking for a specific requirement: previous military service.

By recruiting from such sources, Gault and Farquhar hoped the men would only need minimal training, thus ensuring that the Patricias would be at the Front as soon as logistically possible. Since the Department of Militia and Defence required every trained officer of the Militia for the force which she promised to Britain, the new regiment would have to find new sources of recruiting. As such, they hoped to “make use of the many men now in Canada who have seen service and who [were] not presently enlisted in any unit.” [3] Given such strict requirements, it is not surprising that fewer than 10% of the Patricia’s were of Canadian origin. Accordingly, the remaining recruits were from the “Old Country”, 65% of which were Englishmen. [4]

Nevertheless, in ten short days, the regiment was raised. Personally interviewed and selected by Farquhar himself, 1,098 men were recruited, of which 1,049 had previous military service. Unable to recruit men from the Militia, Farquhar was forced to accept several men who had little or no experience. One such recruit was George Robert Brydon, a tinsmith from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Perhaps it was his age or his physique which made him appealing. Twenty-four years old and standing at 5’9, Brydon was considered quite tall at the time. [5] With only 35% of applicants being selected, however, one thing was clear- Brydon was a strong candidate.

As soon as the recruits were provided with the necessary equipment, they were formed into companies and formal training began. As early as September 27th, the Patricias embarked the S.S. Royal George and set sail to England with the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. At the risk of being delayed three months while the Canadian Contingent continued its training in England, Farquhar pleaded to General Anderson, the Canadian’s Commander, to permit their “early despatch to the theatre of war.” [6] Anderson agreed and on December 21st, the Patricias were, as they had hoped, the first Canadian regiment in the field. Being the first and only Canadian infantry in France, the Patricias served with the British 80th Brigade for nearly a year until they rejoined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in December, 1915.

Our thanks to PPCLI collector Brandon Deuville for his research for this post.

References

[1] Williams, Jeffery. First in the Field: Gault of the Patricias. Vanwell Publishing Ltd: St Catherine’s, 1995.

[2] Ibid, 60.

[3] Hodder-Williams, Ralph. Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 1914-1919: Volume I. Hodder and Stoughton: London, 1923.

[4] Ibid, 10.

[5] George Robert Brydon: Service Record Library and Archives Canada. Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1222 – 43. Item Number: 72827

[6] Hodder-William, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 71.

 

 

 

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