While the First Contingent of the CEF settled down for a tough winter in the mud of Salisbury Plain. The PPLCI got ready for an immediate move to France. They were not a bunch of recruits but hard men who had all been regulars at one time. Their war was to begin earlier than the rest of the "Canadians" and they were to be treated very differently. This post is all about this difference.
Much of the information comes from an excellent blog called PPLCI 100th Anniversary
On the left of this picture is Talbot Papineau. In 1917, he will give up his safe job on the staff to rejoin the men for Passchendale where he will be killed, On the right is my "Uncle" Hamilton Gault, the Founder of the PPCLI or the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry - named after the Governor General, The Duke of Connaught's daughter.
In this picture, they are on board ship on their way to England with the Canadian First Contingent. Most of the men had been born in Britain and nearly all had military service before. It was the only unit that could be ready to fight right away. As a result they had been separated from the rest of the First Contingent even in Canada.
Here is their camp in Levis Quebec - across the river from Valcartier. They joined the rest of the Canadians for a few weeks on Salisbury Plain but on November 16 they left for a new camp at Morn Hill near Winchester that was to become the rear HQ for the Canadians and eventually for the Americans.
"Aunt" Marguerite - sister in law to my Aunt Frances's mother - who was married to Gault had come over on the same ship as he and the men. No doubt when the PPCLI were at Camp Bustard on Salisbury Plain, she may have stayed with Aunt Frances in their rented house at Westbury. She certainly could have seen her brother, Chattan Stephens, but it is unlikely that she could have seen her husband, Hamiliton, For the PPCLI seemed to have been on alert for a move at any time.
The older man on the far left is Agar Adamson. he was a veteran of the Boer War - his story there is here. In 1914, he was 53 and blind in one eye. But a great adventurer whose daily letters to his wife Mabel are the finest source of what life was like in the front line that we can find. I suspect that the woman in the centre is "Aunt" Marguerite. They are on the Great George on their way to the UK.
Bustard Camp, Salisbury Plains.
24 October 1914.
My dear Mabel,
I can not make out from your cable whether it is you alone or your mother and the children who are coming from Canada. I wired you from Plymouth "What are you coming over about" have received no answer. By your last letter the 9th of Oct. you say Mrs. Cawthra is leaving at the end of this month.
We are scattered all over Salisbury Plains under canvas. Weather wet and cold, troops cheerful under most trying conditions. Most of the Canadian contingent will be here (by order) till middle of January. We were warned two days ago to be ready to leave in 10 days. I was in ton last week for a night looking after Mess affairs. We are pretty hard worked, but some leave is coming to us before we go. I have all your letters, some written to Levis.
If you really want me to go and see you in London, telegraph or write to me and I will try and manage leave, the more notice you give me the better, as all officers have to take their turns so as not to, too much interfere with ordinary regimental training.
I am fit and well,
Written just after landing, this, I think, is the first of his many wartime letters to Mabel. She arrived just after he did and, like the Stephens family, Agar found Mabel a place to live near him.
We will see over the years how Mabel's obession with her own role - a charity involving barges for Belgiums - closed her off from the suffering and strain of Agar's life in the front lines and would lead eventually to a breach that hurt him so badly, that their marriage never recovered.
The War diaries of the PPCLI have been transcribed and can be found here - they are a gold mine!
Birth of a Regiment is another treasure trove