They enacted a tragedy.
Think of Macbeth. Who starts the chain of events and why? It is Lady Macbeth. It is her desire to be somebody that drives the big decision. The tragedy, is not the death of King Duncan but in how Lady Macbeth is left behind once she initiates the project.
This is what I think is the story of the Gault's and the founding of the PPCLI. I think that this was her project. I think that like Lady Macbeth, she wanted more status. The tragedy is that once Hammie had enacted the project, the regiment took him away from her. Her reaction to this was to cause her to lose everything.
In this post we will explore this.
Here is Marguerite Stephens and Hammie before the war.
Before the war they spent their time on expeditions and on having a good time. He found business boring and sought excitement. If Hammie was known for anything it was that he was rich. He had served in the Boer War but this was more of an adventure than a serious career choice. He was a playboy. He was a playboy in the Scots and business-minded city of Montreal.
The Stephens had lots of money but Mrs Stephens had been the daughter of a carpenter who had married the widower of her dead sister. Marguerite was definitely not on the A list.
They were rich but on the outside. He did not seem to mind this. He was from old money. Everyone at the top accepted him as a peer. But this was now how people saw Marguerite. She was seen as a climber. As a woman, she could feel the subtle, and the not so subtle, put downs. In a small place like Montreal, she could not avoid feeling badly.
She needed status.
It was the arrival of the new Governor General in 1911 that changed everything for both of them and, especially, for Marguerite.
No one had more status in Canada than the Duke of Connaught and, by proxy, his daughter, Patricia.
The Connaughts would have met the Gault's first at Ravenscrag. Ravenscrag was the Connaught's home away from home in Montreal. The Duke had been a constant visitor there as a young man and had fallen in love with Uncle Montagu's sister Phoebe. Aunt Marguerite, Lady Allan, had hosted his son Prince Arthur on his visit to Canada in 1909. Montagu had arranged for the Prince, and his retinue of 300 people, to cross the Atlantic privately on one of his ships! Ravenscrag was a welcome relief from the boredom of Ottawa and the homely cottage that was Rideau Hall.
At first, Marguerite became good friends with his daughter Patricia. As the Princess's best girl friend, Marguerite Gault jumped into the A list. She was on her way.
Meanwhile, Hammie became captivated by Connaught's military staff. These were not just courtiers but men of great military achievement. I am sure that there was much talk of the possibility of war. And that, in Hammie's case, this talk ignited a dream of playing a significant role in the war that seemed inevitable.
Canada had a large militia but no unit that was really ready for war. There were however many British ex-regulars in Canada.
What if this regiment was to be comprised of the best veterans that were now living in Canada? What if this regiment could be made ready for war as soon as it was declared?What if Hammie paid for a regiment? What if this regiment was to be officered by the Duke' staff? What if the influence of the Governor General could swing this with the Canadian government? Such a plan had merit on its own.
But in spite of all of this military support, my feeling is that behind the scenes, in the early stages of the idea, it was Marguerite who pushed Hammie into this project. As with all big ideas, at first it would have been very fragile. As with many new big ideas, it would have been discussed late at night as the couple lay on the pillows of their bed. If she had been neutral, or against it, it might have been hard for Hammie to press. But if she was keen, he would have gone for it.
She had the motive. By doing this, she would no longer simply be the wife of a rich playboy who got on well with the Princess but a legitimate member of the inner Royal circle.
The Duke loved the idea.
The Duke had been a professional soldier for most of his adult life. Things military interested him. He immediately supported all aspects of the idea. With his support, and with the support and work of his staff, the project was well planned before war even broke out. This was due largely to the quality of the men on the Duke's staff and due also to their own enthusiasm for the idea.
The Duke's support and the connection between Farquhar and Sam Hughes, the mad minister for militia, ensured that it was given the green light.
It was Farquhar that was the pivot.
Lt Col Francis Farquhar. (Photos from Birth of a Regiment Here is how the "Birth" describes him and his role)
Born in England in 1875. Educated at Eton College, he spoke French, Somali and Chinese. He served in South Africa 1899-1900 and Somaliland 1903-1904. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Farquhar was serving as Military Secretary to The Duke of Connaught in 1914. The role was much more than ceremonial. As the senior regular British officer in Canada, he was a respected and important link between the Imperial General Staff and the Canadian Army. It was the partnership and social connection between Farquhar and Gault that was the key to the formation of the regiment.
An officer of the elite Coldstream Guards with a superb record and Royal connections, there is little doubt that Farquahar could have commanded a battalion of his own regiment and would very likely have quickly risen to command a brigade. That he chose instead to help rally a regiment of former soldiers is testament to his commitment to duty above self.
He was to be the CO.
On Farquhar's death, the new CO was H C S Buller.
Herbert Cecil Buller was born in England in 1881, the son of a British Admiral. He joined the Rifle Brigade in 1900 and was promoted Captain in 1910. In August 1914, he was one of three British regular officers appointed to the Regiment from the personal staff of the Governor General (The Duke of Conaught).
He was initially appointed Adjutant to oversee the critical process of recruiting and selecting the original battalion. (Birth)
Buller was laid to rest in the same grave as Farquhar. Brothers to the end.
R T Pelly
Before the war he had served with the Royal North Lancashire Regiment. Appointed Major in August 1914, he assumed command in mid-May after the Battle of Frezenberg. Throughout the relatively quiet summer of 1915, Pelly was responsible for re-establishing the regiment and integrating the new arrivals from the University Companies with the old originals.
He gave up command in December 1915, with the return of Buller, recovered from his injuries at St Eloi. Pelly was struck off strength to command 8th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment. In August 1916, when Buller was killed at Sanctuary Wood, Pelly returned to command of Patricia’s once again. He remained in command through the Somme battles of the fall of 1916 and was then detached as an instructor for the Commanding Officers course at Aldershot.
Later in the war he was promoted Brigadier command the 91st Brigade on Western and Italian fronts. Decorations with PPCLI – DSO, Twice Mentioned in Despatches. Subsequent decorations – CB, CMG, Bar to DSO, Italian Croce di Guerra, five times Mentioned in Despatches. (Birth)
The official "mascot" and name of the regiment was Princess Patricia, Connaught's daughter and now friend of Marguerite (Stephens) Gault. She remained attached to the regiment until her death.
So what of Marguerite? The clue is in the cap badge.
In the centre of the badge is a flower. It is called a 'Marguerite'. Marguerite was the symbol of the regiment. The Princess gave the regiment her name. Marguerite gave it her soul. The use of the Marguerite was Gault's thank you to his wife for supporting him and this project.
She was the unit's totem. This vital aspect of the meaning of the badge explains why Gault moved heaven and earth to have the Marguerite removed after the war. He did this when all the men and all the families pushed back. They did not want to lose the symbol that they had died for. But lose it they did. Because, in Gault's mind, she had betrayed them all. The totem was now accursed.
This was all about honour.
Here she is on the ship coming to England with all the boys. To say that her presence was unusual is an understatement.
The only other wife on board was Lady Evelyn, Farquhar's wonderful wife, who was returning home to England. Lady Evelyn, the daughter of an Earl, was the ideal of the Colonel's wife. She made it her business to look out for all the men and for all their wives. She knew the score and made the regiment her job too.
But for Marguerite, the regiment was all about her. She does not have the capacity to give to it or even know that this is her role.
It's all about her.
From the moment the regiment arrives in England in October, the PPCLI starts to compete with her for Hammie's attention. She cannot see that the way out is to give to the regiment. It is not in her capacity. She is the one who needs attention.
Everything moves fast now.
The PPCLI moves to France in late December. Even while training in England, there was no time to see the wives. Once they are in France, and once Hammie has been in action and is wounded in February, she is cut off completely.
She is cut off not only by his physical absence but also by his emotional absence. Even though she sees him after he is wounded in February, she complains that he is not present. He is with the regiment in heart and in mind.
She does not exist for him.
Then a series of tragedies pull her family support from under her. Her mother dies on the Lusitania. Her 18 month old nephew John dies. Her brother, Chattan is deathly ill. Hammie is wounded 3 days after returning to France. This all happens in May of 1915. Then her sister in law, Hazel returns to Canada with Chattan her brother.
It is clear to her that Hammie's chances of surviving the war are slim to none. Hammie will be killed. Reeling from losses, that would have tested the strongest person, she is very vulnerable.
She realizes that soon she will be all alone.
In July 1915, Hammie is released from hospital. He and Marguerite are invited to go to stay and convalesce with Hammie's sister at her house in the country.
Also present is Hammie's mother. Strangely, another officer from the PPCLI, Bruce Bainsmith, the Machine Gun Officer of the PPCLI, who has also been badly wounded, has been invited too. Who invited him? Marguerite or Hammie?
It is here, in an English Country House, that Hammie comes down in the morning to find Marguerite and Bainsmith in a compromising position. No one will ever know what they were doing. But, in this context, even a kiss would be beyond acceptance.
In a scene that might be in Downton Abbey. Imagine it all. The entire house party gathers around the doomed couple. Bainsmith is expelled from the house. Marguerite leaves later that morning. She never again spends a night under the same roof as Hammie. Bainsmith makes it all worse by going around London telling everyone that Marguerite is leaving Hammie and will marry him. He too is banished from the regiment and has to join the RFC as a pilot. He survives the war.
In the terms of the time, Bainsmith is a "Cad". It would have been inconceivable to Gault that his wife might be taken advantage of by a brother officer. It would be inconceivable that his wife would be weak enough to fall for a brother officer.
This act is an act of total betrayal.
This is when the "Scottish Play" becomes the Iliad. Where the anger of betrayal consumes the main actors in the drama. Where the drama has to end in death.
If Gault could have killed Marguerite there and then, I think he would have done it. As it is, he will do what he knows will kill her in another way.
He chooses to wound her where she feels the most. He will destroy her name. He will make her socially a pariah.
He files for divorce as the injured party. No one in her class got divorced then. And if they did, the woman was never the injured party. Worse the process was intensely public. For, in Canada at the time, a divorce can only be made via an act of Parliament in the full glare of the press. Hammie takes the trouble, in the midst of the war, to return to Canada to go through with this. He fails and returns to France only to be wounded, even more badly, in June 1916.
All the time, in the typical British male fashion, neither he, or any of his officers, say a word to each other about this. He presents a cheerful face to all who meet him.
Finally, after the war, they do get a divorce in France. Marguerite then marries a professional gigolo. That marriage fails. She dies soon afterwards. Her mental health in ruins. She may have killed herself. The final indignity is that the Gigolo sues the family for support!
There is much more to tell of Hammie Gault during the war, looking ahead into peacetime for a moment, he will face more tragedy with another woman but will find his life partner later and be very happy. But that is later.
In 1917, he will return again to his boys. At the end of the war, he will bring what is left of his regiment back to Canada. Princess Patricia will renew the colours in his presence.
What did this all mean?
For the rest of his life he will never be described as rich but always as a hero who had given all he had for his country. For the rest of his life he always has a place with the regiment. He is acknowledged not as a rich man but as a man.
Marguerite, like Lady Macbeth, loses everything. She loses her name, her respect, her mind and then her life.
Is this not a tragedy in the truest sense?