ON REVIEW - The Patricias: A Century of Service

Review by Bob Gordon

Created during the paroxysms of exuberant, patriotic imperialism that followed the outbreak of war in August 1914, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) celebrate their centenary this summer. In recognition of a century of military service, historian David J Bercusson has penned The Patricias. The story is supplemented by lucullan illustrations from a variety of sources. It traces the century from the PPCLI’s place as first in the field during WWI, to its ongoing presence training Afghan forces in Kabul.

In 1914, the Princess Pats were first in the field for two good reasons, one social and one martial. On August 3, the day the Germans invaded Belgium, A Hamilton Gault, Esq. businessman and bon vivant, militiaman and South African war veteran, met with Minister of Militia Sam Hughes to discuss raising a regiment.

The key to the unit's existence was recorded on a Chateau Laurier memo pad, “To be composed of picked men, those having had active service being given preference.” Only one in three of the volunteers were accepted. For this reason they would be ready for service in the field faster than the disorganized mob Hughes was shoehorning into Camp Valcartier. And they were. Arriving on the front line in January 1915, they even conducted a trench raid in February that some historians regard as the first by a Canadian unit. This strangely goes unmentioned in The Patricias.

Socially, the Patricias were the cream of Ottawa society. Gault, wealthy and widely known was to be second-in-command of the unit. The commanding officer was none other than, Lieutenant-Colonel Francis D. Farquhar, DSO. LtCol Farquhar was a Boer War hero, and, significantly, military secretary to HRH The Duke of Connaught, Governor General of Canada. Their patron, his daughter Princess Patricia, handmade their Colour, the famed Ric-A-Dam-Doo.

Over the past century, the Patricias have regularly found themselves in the thick of Canada's military history and lived up to their origins. From the final days of Second Ypres, on the Morrow River and in the Liri Valley, at Kap'yong, in Nicosi, to the current lingering commitment to Afghanistan the Patricia's have repeatedly affirmed their reputation as one of the most storied regiments in the Canadian Army. The Patricia's tells that tale, lavishly complimented with telling photographs, documents and works of art.

"The Patricias: A Century of Service" by David J. Bercuson, co-published by Goose Lane Editions and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in 2013. Includes 144 pages, hundreds of historic and contemporary photographs, a companion DVD, and an index. Hardcover $35.00. ISBN 978-0-86492-675-3. If you're interested in a copy, click here for the publisher's website.