On May 5th, the commander of the PPCLI, Lt Col Buller, was wounded. Fortunately Hammie Gault, who had been wounded on February 28th, arrived back on that day with 47 replacements. Hammie took command just 3 days before the Pats would almost be wiped out on the 8th.
If you recall, the Pats had been financed by Gault when war was declared. More background here. Its senior officers had been on the staff of the then Governor General, the Duke of Connaught, whose daughter Patricia was the Colonel in Chief and namesake of the regiment. Farquhar the original CO had already been killed.
From now on, the losses of the officers would be so great as to leave the unit almost leaderless. On May 8th, all the senior officers would be dead or wounded. Gault was again badly wounded. This left Hugh Niven, known as Hughie, in command as a Lieutenant.
So begins a tradition, in the Pats, of promoting from within.
It's ironic that the most elite unit of the CEF was the most meritorious. They could not bear to have outsiders come in and lead their men. Only another Pat could do that. They also could not take a safe job and leave their men in danger.
The Pats vigorously promoted from the ranks. Pearson who was the Lt Col by the armistice had been a lance corporal in 1915.
This devotion also meant that no wound would hold them back from returning. No matter how badly wounded, officers from the Pats always seemed to return to duty. Hammie even comes back later in 1916 with his left leg amputated 10 inches above the knee.
This devotion means that no safe job will be tolerated for long. As we will see in the case of Talbot Papineau. Even when the return meant certain death.
This devotion meant that time also was not a barrier. Hughie Niven, crushed by his experience is sent back to Canada as an act of mercy before the end of the war. But he returns in the 1930's as its CO.
W J "Shorty" Colquhoun, (He is 6 foot 7 inches tall) is captured on Feb 28th and spends the entire war as POW. He attempted to escape 17 times.
Colquhoun was one of just six men from the battalion to be taken alive as a prisoner during the war. He and Gault had been crawling around the German lines on Feb 28th. Then Shorty went out for closer look. He was caught. He was awarded the first MC in the CEF for this work and for carrying a wounded soldier to safety under fire.
He returns to the Pats after the war and is the CO in 1939 when he takes the Pats back to Europe.
This devotion costs the officers of the Pats dearly in their personal lives as well. We see this so clearly with Hammie himself and later with Agar Adamson.
Hammie had been back in England after his wound in February. He had spent some awkward time with his wife Marguerite (Stephens - sister of Chattan Stephens mother of Baby John on the Lusitania and aunt of my Great Aunt Frances)
Marguerite complains that while Hammie was with her, he was not. In his heart and in his mind he was back with his boys. The Pats were "the other woman."
Here she is on the troopship on the way out. On the far left is Agar Adamson, who will also later command the regiment and whose devotion will also cost him so much personally. Agar wrote to his wife Mabel every day of the war. But he could not reconnect with her when it was all over. He felt that she had betrayed him and the Pats. More on this later. After the war, he left her and moved to England. So did Hammie.
For many in the Pats, like Hammie and Agar, they discovered a terrible secret. Many discovered that they not only loved each other but that they loved war itself. The originals of the Pats had nearly all been ex soldiers who had discovered that they did not like peace. In these early months of the war, they create this Spartan culture of the warrior that later members of the regiment take on even after the Originals are nearly all dead. It is still the ethos of the regiment.
This is the two word inscription at the foot of the statue of Leonidas of Sparta at Thermopylae. Translated it says "Come and Take". It is the warrior's challenge to the foe.
This is the spirit of the Pats as we will see on May 8th when any other unit would have folded but the Pats, under the command of Hughie stand.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.