Princess Patricia CLI looks back at 100 years
Wednesday, Aug 06, 2014 11:15 am
One hundred years ago the call went out for trained military men to join the ranks of a new unit formed on the eve of the First World War. That unit – which would form the three battalions of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry – would go on to be one of the most well respected fighting units in the world. Over their 100-year history, in every major deployment from Canada, the Princess Pats were always the first to go into battle.
“The PPCLI has had a century of service. In every major deployment from Canada, the Patricias were always the first in the field. We were the first in WWI in January, 1915. The first in WWII in Sicily, the first in Korea and the first in Afghanistan in 2002,” said Captain Alan Younghusband, a regimental adjutant for the PPCLI.
The PPCLI’s served in the First and then the Second World Wars and in Korea. They served during the Cold War years, and were in the peacekeeping forces in the 1990s in the Balkans. Most recently members of the PPCLI served in Afghanistan, Younghusband said.
The regiment got its start when Boer War veteran, and Ontario businessman Andrew Hamilton Gault offered $100,000 to equip a battalion for overseas service. On August 10, 1914, the Charter of the Regiment was signed and the next day mobilization began.
“They didn’t want to compete with the signing of recruits for other units. They wanted experienced soldiers. Once they put out the call, a train left from Edmonton for Ottawa with stops all along the way to pick up seasoned veterans who had fought in India, in the Zulu Wars and the Boer War,” said Younghusband.
Of that first sign-up, 1,049 men, only 58 came back to Canada. Over the course of the First World War, three Victoria Crosses would be awarded posthumously to PPCLI soldiers.
The death toll was most grievous at the May 1915 Battle of Frezenberg, in Ypres, Belgium.
“They lost 80 per cent of the regiment. 600 went into battle and at the end of the day 140 came out,” Younghusband said.
It was the first major battle when poison gas was used but even more devastating, the Canadians’ position made them sitting ducks.
“They had their back to a lake and they were told to hold at all costs. But the Germans were on higher ground and they just shot down onto the Canadians,” Younghusband explained.
The PPCLI always fought side by side with the Loyal Edmonton ’49ers. The regimental band that went with them was the City of Edmonton Pipes and Drums.
“They said, ‘They piped us to France and back again,” Younghusband said.
The PPCLI was sent to Sicily during the Second World War and they fought with the Loyal Eddies up the boot of Italy, where they suffered the most losses at the Battle of Ortona.
“From there they went to Holland and were among the first to liberate Amsterdam in May 1945,” Younghusband said.
In 1951, during the Korean War, the PPCLI was awarded a Presidential Citation after the Battle of Kapyong.
“They were awarded the citation because of defending Seoul,” Younghusband said.
During the Cold War the PPCLI served in peacekeeping missions in the Golan Heights, Cypress and the Balkans.
Between 2002 and 2014 approximately 8,000 members of the PPCLI served in Afghanistan.
Younghusband was in Afghanistan in 2002 and believes that the long, proud record established by Hamilton Gault in 1914 stands to this day.
“Our troops were well trained and they were recognized by other forces as being professionals,” he said.
From 1914 to 2014, a total of 1,866 PPCLI soldiers have died in combat. Their names are listed on the honour roll in the Calgary Military Museum.
“We’re not chest-beaters but whenever we talk among ourselves, we have a proud history to share. We have a motto: Once a Patricia always a Patricia. We want to share some of that history with the public during our celebrations on August 9,” said Younghusband.