This year marks the centennial of the start of the First World War. It also marks the centennial of the creation of one of Canada’s most celebrated military units, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
Red Deer actually had connection before the start of the War with Princess Patricia, who was honoured with the name of the regiment. On Sept. 5th, 1912, she made a visit to Red Deer with her parents, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathern (who was also the Governor General of Canada) and the Duchess of Connaught.
The weather during the visit was wet and miserable.
Nevertheless, Princess Patricia along with her father, made their way into the C.P.R. station, which was crammed to overflowing.
They then went to the north side of the station where Prince Arthur made a formal presentation of colours to the first troop of the Red Deer Boy Scouts.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, the regular Canadian military forces were seriously under strength.
Hence, Andrew Hamilton Gault offered a very large sum of money to finance and equip a regiment to help with the War effort.
He was joined in this proposal by Lieutenant-Colonel Francis D. Farquhar, who was the military secretary to the Governor General (i.e. Prince Arthur).
Work on forming the regiment proceeded very quickly. The official charter was signed on Aug. 10th, 1914. Recruitment proceeded so quickly that more than 3,000 men applied for enlistment within eight days. By Aug. 19th, a full complement of 1,098 men had been selected for service in the regiment.
Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar was named the regiment’s first commander. Princess Patricia, as the honourary Colonel-in-Chief, personally designed, and made by hand, the regimental flag. Those colours were presented at the regiment’s first formal parade on Aug. 23rd in Ottawa.
The regiment underwent a period of training at Levis, Quebec, before arriving in England in mid-October.
The men trained on the Salisbury Plains before joining the 80 British Brigade for further training at Winchester, England.
The P.P.C.L.I. landed in northern France on Dec. 21st, 1914, thereby becoming the first Canadian infantry unit to enter the war zone. They went into the trenches on Jan. 6th, 1915 at Dickebusch, Belgium.
The P.P.C.L.I. played a critical role in the Second Battle of Ypres (St. Julien and Frezenberg) in the spring of 1915.
The Canadians withstood the first use of poison gas as a weapon of war. During the German advance, the P.P.C.L.I. held the line with phenomenal skill and bravery, but at a horrendous cost. Out of 700 members of the regiment in the battle, all but 150 were killed or wounded.
Despite these horrific losses, the P.P.C.L.I. continued to prove themselves as one of the very best fighting units along the Western Front.
The regiment was a key part of such important battles as The Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.
According to a list published in the Red Deer News on Sept. 22nd, 1915, among the first Red Deer men to enlist with the P.P.C.L.I. were Alex Peattie and his brother George Peattie. Alex was with the Canadian Divisional Cyclist Company when he was killed in action near Armentieres, France on Valentine’s Day, 1915.
Other Red Deer and district members of the P.P.C.L.I. included Phil Galbraith, son of the first mayor of the City of Red Deer; Arthur and Charles Carswell, sons of John Carswell, owner of the Red Deer News; James Clark, son of Red Deer’s Member of Parliament Dr. Michael Clark; F.W. Thompson, Percy Blythe, James Heywood and A.J.H. Roland.
The P.P.C.L.I. distinctions of service to Canada are not limited to the First World War. They also distinguished themselves in the Second World War, the Korean Conflict and most recently, the war in Afghanistan. Canada is rightly very proud of the P.P.C.L.I. and owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to all those who have served with the regiment over the past 100 years.