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Princess Patricias Light Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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Princess Patricias Light Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force

23rd Apr 1915 Galantry in Bayonet charge

8th May 1915 Heavy Fighting in Ypres Salient  On the morning of 8th May, the 3rd Monmouths had three companies in the front line and one in support. Half a mile to the north the 1st Monmouth's were fighting with the 83rd Brigade. The German bombardment began at 5.30 am followed by the first infantry attack at 8.30. In the words of Pte W.H. Badham: "They started bombarding at the same time in the morning and….afterwards we could hear a long blast of a whistle, and the attack started. We were only a handful of men, and they came on in thousands, but we kept them at bay"

Private A.L. Devereux carried this story forward in a letter he wrote to his family a day or two after the battle: "Hundreds of them were put of action with shells and it left very few men to man the trenches. After, the Huns shelled all the country for a couple of miles…stoping any reinforcements from being brought up and thousands of the rabble charged our trenches in their favourite massed formation. The few boys that were left in our trenches showed then the kind of stuff Britain can turn out and thousands of the Germans were put out of action"

Almost immediately, the shelling started again and at 09.00am the Germans attacked again and were again driven back. The Germans realised that their attack was making no progress, and they fell back so that the artillery could return to its task on the front line trenches. By 9.10 am the bombardment was as intense as at any time that morning and there was little that the soldiers could do except find what little cover they could.

Orders reached the 3rd Monmouth's and 2nd King's Own from Brigade HQ about 10am to evacuate the front line trenches. Captain Baker began withdrawing his Company, but immediately the enemy opened up an intense machine gun fire, followed by shrapnel, which practically swept away the few survivors of A and D Companies. Captain Baker was killed a few yards behind the front line. The order apparently never reached Lt Reed and he and few men of A Company, with some machine gunners held on gallantly and resisted to the last. Lt Reed was finally killed and no officer of A Company was left, and only 13 survivors amongst the men could be mustered. D Company stuck it gallantly. They lost their only officer Captain J Lancaster. Every Sergeant in the company was killed and only 16 men answered the roll call next morning. Of the 500 men in A and D Companies only 29 were left. B Company (under Captain Gattie) throughout the battle was separated from the rest of the Battalion. They were in the front line in a wood near Red Lodge. Rations and letters came up regularly and one fortunate officer even received a tin of cooked sausages! What the war diary does not record is that the new trenches had been hastily prepared and it was not as deep or as wide as had been hoped for by those men retiring to it. One member of the 3rd Monmouths noted: "….when we occupied this new line of trenches we found them very badly made and up to our knees in water, and the poor men had no chance of getting any sleep unless they wished to i.e. down in the water".

So dawned the most critical day of the great battle, the 8th May, The 3rd Monmouth's lay astride the Zonnebeke road, the apex of the Salient, two companies in the front line with one in support and the fourth company not far away to the south. Half a mile to the north was their sister battalion the 1st Monmouthshire's in the 84th Brigade. Holding the position with them were their comrades of the 83rd Brigade, the nd Kings Own to the north and to the south the 1st KOYLI who relieved the 1st York and Lancs and B Coy. 3rd Monmouth's on the night of the 7th May. The Brigade had been in the line without relief since April 17th . Its numbers were greatly reduced, and the artillery behind were few in numbers and woefully short of ammunition. As indicating the desperate position of the British troops in respect to artillery support, it is now authoritatively stated that the heavy British guns during this period of the 2nd Battle of Ypres were limited to:- One 9.2 inch howitzer, Eight 60 pdrs, Four old six inch howitzers, Twelve obsolete 4.7 inch guns.

Against them the Germans brought up at least 260 heavy guns and howitzers. There was nothing except the Division between the enemy and Ypres on that day and they got as far as Verlorenhoek, but the British soldier proverbially does not know when he is beaten and the Germans were kept back somehow till fresh troops were brought up in the evening to fill the many gaps. The enemy on their side were all out to push through. They had guns on the high ground enfilading the British position and smothering our artillery, they had field guns well forward, and they had innumerable machine guns, and six divisions of their best and freshest troops, against the depleted ranks of the war-worn and weary 27 th and 28 th Divisions. Their bombardment opened up at 5.30.a.m. and the trenches lying on the forward slope were badly damaged and almost untenable.

The wood came under heavy shelling and Lt Groves and Lt Palmer were killed by a direct hit on their dug out. After two German attacks on the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the front trenches, B Company charged across open ground to reinforce them. A dip in the ground favoured the advance and casualties were few, but Capt. Gardner was shot through the heart as he entered the trench, a great loss. He was one of the finest looking and best soldiers in the Battalion. 2/Lt. Paul was wounded at about the same time.

The first enemy infantry attack took place at 8.30.a.m. and was driven off. The bombardment re-opened and at 9.a.m. the enemy again attacked and were driven back. After a further hours intense shelling the front line was practically obliterated and the enemy found few survivors to hold up the attack. In A Coy 3rd Monmouths, Capt Baker and C.S.M. were killed and Lt Reed with a few survivors of his company held gallantly on and resisted to the last. This party and the machine gun section took heavy toll of the advancing enemy, but were finally overwhelmed by numbers. Lt. Reed was killed and no officer of A Coy was left and only 13 survivors amongst the men could be mustered. D Coy stuck it gallantly. They lost their only officer, Captain James Lancaster, beloved of all who knew him, and that fine type of Territorial soldier C.S.M. Lippiatt, who did such wonderful work training recruits almost single-handed at Abergavenny in August and September 1914. Every Sergeant in the company was killed and only 16 men answered the roll next morning. The machine-gun section were involved in this slaughter, and had one gun destroyed but one of the few survivors brought back the lock of the other.

Early in the day C Coy came into action in support, but little by little was forced back to Battalion HQ owing to the exposure of their flank from the north. Stragglers were coming down the road, so Col. Gough ordered Sergeant Jenkins to collect them in a trench in the rear, and for his fine services on this occasion coupled with the good work on the telephone; this old soldier received the DCM. This party and other remnants of the Battalion was led by Col. Gough in counter attack, but could only advance as far as the eastern edge of Frezenberg. In this advance R.S.M. Hatton was seriously wounded. He had accompanied the adjutant Capt. Ramsden, in many visits to the front line during the last terrible days and with him had often helped to stiffen the defence by cheery encouragement. He now refused to be carried back and was taken prisoner. His wounds were of such a nature that he was one of the first prisoners of war to be exchanged, but unhappily he died much regretted before the end of the war. He was a fine type of regular soldier from whom all ranks learnt much. After hanging onto this position for some time and holding up the advance, orders came at about 11.a.m. from the Brigade to retire on the GHQ line near Potijze.

Lt. McLean, M.O., 3rd Monmouth's and Lt.Marriott, M.O., 1st Monmouth's had established a dressing station just east of Verlorenhoek; at 11.a.m. they received orders to retire their detachments, but after sending back the stretcher bearers they found a number of wounded still coming back and so decided to carry on, till the enemy were practically in the village and Lt. McLean was wounded.

Just before mid-day the 2nd East Yorks were ordered to counter attack and after reaching Verlorenhoek with heavy casualties had to fall back on the G.H.Q. line. At 2.30.p.m. 1st York and Lancaster and 3rd Middlesex counter-attacked north and south of the railway, remnants of the 2nd East Yorks, 1st KOYLI, 2nd Kings Own, 3rd Monmouth's, 5th Kings Own going up into support. At 3.30.p.m. 2nd East Surreys , 3rd Royal Fusiliers arrived and were sent up in support. The counter attack, practically unsupported by artillery, made slow progress and by 5.30.p.m. was held up at a line running from Verlorenhoek south over the railway. This line was consolidated with fresh troops during the night and eventually became the approximate position of the front line until the British advance in 1917.

In the meantime the 3rd Monmouth Battalion with the exception of B Coy was withdrawn and marched back to huts at Vlamertinghe. B Coy throughout the battle was separated from the rest of the battalion. It reinforced 1st York and Lancs, coming under orders of the CO of that Battalion, and took over a trench on the extreme right of the Brigade and Division from a company of K.R.R.C. 27 th Division. The next unit on the right was the “Princess Pats”. The position was in front of the wood near Red Lodge, about 300 yards south of the Roulers railway. The trench was newly dug like the rest of the line and not deep. It was also on a forward slope and the only communication trench was full of mud and impassable. Further, it lay along a lane with a hedge on one side and a line of poplars on the other, so that it was an admirable mark for the enemy's artillery observing on Westhoek Ridge. On May 5 th and in a smaller degree on May 6 th and 7 th the enemy bombarded the trench, but it was so narrow and well traversed that the damage was comparatively slight and casualties not as heavy as might be expected from such a bombardment. Sgt. Nash, a Territorial with much service, was killed on the 6th .

The attack in front was beaten off and the afternoon in the immediate neighbourhood proved quiet, but there was a great danger of the company being surrounded.. The P.P.C.L.I on the right were forced back to their support trench and on the left to the north of the wood there was a large gap and both flanks were more or less in the air. Accordingly Capt. Gattie went to the HQ of the Rifle Brigade, near Bellewaarde Lake, for reinforcements to protect the exposed flanks, especially to the north, and was able to guide them as far as the P.P.C.L.I. support trench, but machine gun fire prevented them from advancing further until dark. Meanwhile a party of the Monmouth's and KOYLI were in fact in advance of all other British troops with both flanks exposed. Towards the evening the bullets of our troops counter-attacking up the railway were beginning to take them in the rear, so that it was clearly impossible to hold on.

The party was now completely cut off from its own HQ, so Capt. Gattie proceeded to Brigade HQ for orders, leaving the remains of B Company under 2/Lt. Somerset. Under cover of darkness the men of both units filed out of the right end of the trench and were sorted out, and the men in the wood were ordered to re-join. This party had received no orders to advance in the morning and had been left behind. The senior soldier, Cpl. Sketchley, had kept them together during the day and now led 30 men out to join the Company. The enemy attack up the railway on his left had come so near that his party had taken a prisoner and they now brought him with them. Cpl. Sketchley received the D.C.M. for his great initiative and pluck at this period. Capt. Mallinson was awarded the D.S.O., for his fine leadership in maintaining this position and finally in extracting his party from a very difficult position. The enemy did not attempt to harass the withdrawal and the whole mixed party got safely back to Rifle Brigade HQ. After a halt there they proceeded across the railway to the Potijze road intending to rejoin the Brigade at Vlamertinghe.

15th May 1915 Two Interesting letters

16th Nov 1917 On the Move

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Those known to have served with

Princess Patricias Light Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force

during the Great War 1914-1918.

  • Drope H.. Pte.
  • Knox William Urwin Clifford. Sgt. (d.23rd Oct 1918)
  • Mabson MM.. Frank Tildesley. Sergeant
  • Mullin VC, MM.. George. Sgt.
  • Mullin VC MM. George Harry. Sgt
  • Rennie James. Sgt. (d.9th Apr 1917)
  • Sherwood . Pte.

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Sgt. James Rennie 129th Battalion (d.9th Apr 1917)

James Rennie was born in Rothesay, Scotland on 23rd of October 1893 the only son of Robert and Jeanie Rennie. He emigrated to Canada in 1911 and lived first at McGowan Farm in Scarborough. He then lived at Aldershot and later on Hess Street in Hamilton with his sister and brother-in-law, Jean and Jack Morrison. His girlfriend at the time was Jeanie Gardener.

He enlisted in Dundas, Ontario on 14th of April 1916 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was known for his ability as a boxer and long distance runner and represented the 129th Battalion in army sporting contests. He once ran against Tom Longboat of 107th Battalion, the famous Six Nations' distance runner, who became a dispatch carrier during the war and survived. He was a friend of Ronald McKinnon and a photo taken in March 1917 of them has appeared in the journal "Stand To! No 84" in an article entitled Princess Patricia's Pals by Gordon McKinnon. Both Ronald and Jimmie died at Vimy Ridge. It is possible that they both were in the first wave.

James Rennie was first listed as Wounded in Action then Wounded and Missing, then Wounded and missing after action and finally Killed in Action 9th of April 1917. A fellow soldier visited the family after the war and said that he saw James wounded but thought he would be all right and was surprised to find that he had died. His body was not found. James Rennie is listed on the Vimy Memorial.

Beverley Fazakas


Pte. H. Drope Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

Pte Harry Drope was a POW at Heilsberg. He walked 500 miles to Russia on after escaping on 13 June 1918.


Sgt. William Urwin Clifford Knox Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (d.23rd Oct 1918)

William Urwin Clifford Knox served with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment) in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was born in Jarrow 19th of September 1885 and died 23rd October 1918 aged 33. He enlisted in Port Arthur, Ontario, Canada and was the husband of W. U. Knox of 2349 Esplanade Avenue, Montreal and son of George Urwin and Catherine Ann Knox (nee Clifford) of 22 James Street Thornaby on Tees.

William is buried in Montreal (Mount Royal) Cemetery.

Vin Mullen


Sgt. George Mullin VC, MM. Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

George Harry Mullin was born at Portland, Oregon and moved to Moosomin, Saskatchewan at the age of two. He enlisted in the army in late 1914. He was 25 years old, a sergeant in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force when he was awarded the VC.

"On 30 October 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium, Sergeant Mullin single-handed captured a pill-box which had withstood heavy bombardment and was causing heavy casualties and holding up the attack. He rushed the snipers' post in front, destroyed the garrison with bombs, shot two gunners and then compelled the remaining 10 men to surrender. All the time rapid fire was directed on him and his clothes were riddled with bullets, but he never faltered in his purpose and he not only helped to save the situation but indirectly saved many lives."

Mullin had earlier received the Military Medal for action at Vimy Ridge.

S. Flynn


Pte. Sherwood McGill University Battalion 2nd Company Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

Pte. Sherwood is named in Frank Mabson's Military Medal citation for assisting him in the attack on the machinegun emplacement at Vimy Ridge on the 9th of April 1917.


Sergeant Frank Tildesley Mabson MM. McGill University Battalion, 2nd Company Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

Frank Tildesley Mabson was a student of Victoria College in the University of Toronto when he enlisted in the McGill University Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Montreal. He joined the British Expeditionary Force in France in September 1915 being identified as McG186 2nd Company PPCLI. Frank kept a diary from September 28th 1915 to June 11th 1916. As a sergeant he was awarded a military medal for his bravery during the action at Vimy Ridge in 1917. "During the action of VIMY RIDGE on 9th - 10th April, this N.C.O. displayed gallant conduct and splendid leadership of his Platoon throughout the advance and consolidation. He showed a splendid example by his indefatigable efforts. He was severely wounded towards the close of the first day. Too much cannot be said of his gallant actions. He has been with the Battalion for the past two years and the nature of his wounds will, in all probability, prevent his return." (Lon! don Gazette no. 30188 dated 18th July 1917) The action for which he was recommended for the Military Medal was his attack on a machine-gun emplacement with the aid of Private Sherwood. Frank attacked the position, captured the crew and destroyed the emplacement. Due to his wounds (the loss of sight in one eye) he was sent down the line and evacuated back to the UK. Despite this loss of vision he drove until his death in 1981 at the age of 91. One of his few regrets was that he did not continue keeping his diary after June 1916.

Christine Chittock

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