Andrew Hamilton Gault was the founder of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Canada.
Hamilton Gault recognized the growing severity of the situation forming in Europe in 1914, and saw the need for an army unit that would be able to respond quickly in an international crisis.
Gault used part of his own personal fortune and his close relationship with the Governor-General’s staff to convince the Government to authorize a privately raised Regiment in August 1914.
The PPCLI went on to distinguish themselves during World War One in battles on the Ypres Salient, Mount Sorrel, The Somme, Vimy Ridge and at Passchendaele. It became - and remains - one of Canada’s most prestigious regiments.
As a young man, Andrew Hamilton Gault had it all. He was tall, handsome and charming. He also stood to inherit a vast sum of money and the business empire ruled by his father, Andrew Frederick Gault, the Cotton King of Canada. Yet, Gault could not get what he truly wanted: a commission in the British Regular Army. He had no dreams of high society and joining Canada’s business elite, even though he moved through that world with ease. He yearned to be a Regular Army officer.
Despite all of his qualities and his father’s wealth and power, his dream was beyond his reach. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the summer of 1914 and the developing hostilities in Europe would open a door of opportunity for his career aspirations and Gault seized it. The advent of the Great War inspired Gault to take matters into his own hands and found what would become one of Canada’s oldest and most-respected regiments, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).
Gault was born in London, England on 12 August 1882. His grandfather had also been a successful businessman, but the collapse of the family business in Ireland brought the Gault family to the brighter shores of Canada. Gault’s father, A.F. Gault, eventually established himself in Montreal. He bought his first cotton mill in the 1870s and came to own seventeen mills in total. One of his mills was the largest cotton mill in North America.
A.F. Gault’s mills were typical of the time; large, cavernous buildings where a large number of children worked long hours. While his mills may have been typical, A.F. Gault’s attitude towards his young employees was not. It is said that he could be moved to tears at the sight of a child living on the street. Given that he had a caring heart, A.F. Gault ensured the children working for him were well treated.
Andrew Hamilton Gault – known as Hamilton to his parents and Hammie to his friends – was raised to be a gentleman. He was educated, travelled extensively and had a love for music and sports. He could also ride, shoot and sail, play hockey, rugby and cricket. He had a love for wilderness adventure and a deep satisfaction for the hardship that accompanied it. Gault’s first military experience came via Bishop College’s Cadet Corp. His time in the cadets would prove to be a formative experience for the young Gault.
Upon graduating from Bishop’s College, Gault returned to Montreal where he joined the Montreal-based militia regiment, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada), rising to the rank of Second Lieutenant. When the Second Boer War in South Africa began in 1899, Canada provided an infantry battalion followed by two mounted regiments and three artillery batteries.
In autumn 1901, Major William Hamilton Merritt, a mining engineer and militia officer, proposed raising a regiment in Canada that would be funded by the British government. Merritt recruited four squadrons for what had become known as the Imperial Yeomanry Regiment but would later be renamed the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles. Militia regiments were asked to nominate officers to serve with this new regiment and The Black Watch suggested Hamilton Gault.
The Boer War
At nineteen, Gault had little in the way of credentials as an officer, but what he lacked in experience he made up for in ability and potential. The 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles sailed for South Africa on Jan. 14, 1902, arriving on Feb. 18. The Boer War offered Gault much in the way of hard travelling but little actual combat experience. Even so, he experienced enough of war to confirm that his chosen profession was indeed the right one. He also demonstrated his ability as a soldier. The Commanding Officer of the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles recommended Gault for a commission in the British Regular Army.
Appreciative of his son’s ambitions, and rather than force him to join the family business, A.F. Gault in mid 1902 wrote to influential friends, including Sir Donald Smith, of the CPR who raised Lord Strathcona’s Horse, which saw service in the Boer War; Lady Aberdeen, who served in the 1890s as Governess-General of Canada and former Canadian Prime Minister Sir Charles Tupper, seeking their support. Despite their letters of recommendation, the Imperial War Officer turned down A.F. Gault’s requests, citing the large number of British officers that would be given preferential treatment and given placements before Colonials.
When Andrew Hamilton Gault arrived in London, his father informed him his dream of becoming an officer in the British Regular Army was dead. Gault immediately returned to Montreal and rejoined the Black Watch. He had little time to dwell on his lost dream, however. His father died July 6, 1903, leaving him with a fortune and the weighty responsibility of running his father’s business of which he knew little.
Despite his lack of interest, Gault threw himself at the task with his customary dedication and commitment and joined his uncles’ business, The Gault Brothers Company, to learn the ropes. He would not be given full control of his father’s business until he turned 30, giving him time to learn and gain experience under the watchful eyes of his uncles. At that time, he married Marguerite Claire Stephens, the daughter of a wealthy Montreal businessman. The couple met in March 1904 and by July were married. Gault also continued service with the Black Watch and was posted as Liaison Officer to the Commanding Officer of the annual Militia Training Camp.
In spring 1906, Gault met His Royal Highness Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s son and a friend of Marguerite’s parents, when the prince came to Canada with his family for a visit. The Duke of Connaught would become Canada’s Governor-General in 1911 and when he, the British Army’s most senior Field Marshall, came to Montreal that same year, the Gaults accompanied him and his wife to the opera.
The Gaults also formed a friendship with the royal couple’s youngest daughter, Princess Patricia, and were quickly incorporated into her social circle, joining her for parties and other events. This relationship with the Duke and Duchess and their daughter would prove fortuitous, for through them, Gault also met Lt.-Col. Francis Farquhar, the Governor General’s Military Secretary.
Founding of the Regiment
At the outbreak of the First World War on Aug. 4, 1914, thirty-two-year-old Gault was anxious to contribute to what was believed would be a dirty, but quick fight: “Home by Christmas” was the popular refrain. Gault also understood that as an officer of means raised with the ideals of a Victorian gentleman, he had a duty and obligation to King and Country. He recognized that Canada’s army would take time to organize and mobilize and that the best route to ensure he got his chance to serve overseas was to form his own regiment, as he realized serving as an officer in the militia was not necessarily a direct route to the fighting.
Gault envisioned forming a mounted regiment that would serve with the British Army, similar to what Sir Donald Smith did with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse. He put the idea before Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, at the beginning of August, offering $100,000.00 of his own money (the equivalent of about $2 million in 2011) for equipment and training. Hughes accepted Gault’s proposal, but instead suggested an infantry regiment would be a better choice. Gault shared his plans with his friend Lt.-Col. Francis Farquhar, who enthusiastically offered to help.
It was Farquhar that suggested Princess Patricia as the Regiment’s namesake. With the princess and her father, the Duke, in agreement, the regiment now had a name: the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Regiment. Gault thought “Light” provided “an irregular tang” to it. Hughes added “Canadian” to the regiment’s name when he signed the regimental charter a week later on Aug. 10. The charter named Gault as the Patricia’s Senior Major and Second-in-Command and Farquhar as the Regiment’s Commanding Officer.
In accepting Gault’s proposal, Hughes included one stipulation: Gault and Farquhar could not recruit from Canadian militia units as the Federal Government had committed to form an expeditionary force of some 25,000 soldiers and officers and needed every man already serving in the militia. That presented no barrier, however. Both Farquhar and Gault knew Canada had become home to numerous veterans of the Boer War, both British and Canadians.
The two men immediately began recruiting for the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) quickly receiving 3,000 applications, of which 1,098 were hand picked. It was an eclectic group of individuals that became known as the “Originals,” a group of “Prospectors, trappers, guides, cow-punchers, prize-fighters, farmers, professional and business men, above all old soldiers.” The Originals – 31 officers and 1,100 other ranks – did include all of those groups, along with students, even teachers, labourers, professionals, engineers, lawyers, accountants and tradesmen.
Most had prior military experience and the vast majority had been born in England (a third of the officers, however, had been born in Canada). The recruits included the likes of prize fighter Jock Munroe and a group of Westerners who arrived wearing cowboy hats, khaki shirts and neckerchiefs who called themselves the Legion of Frontiersmen.
An entire pipe band from Edmonton arrived and committed itself to the Regiment for the war. It appears that another group of men who had gathered in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, used a loaded Smith & Wesson revolver to convince CPR staff to hitch two more railcars to an eastward bound PPCLI recruit train.
The newly-fledged Patricias embarked upon the liner the Royal George on Sept. 28, 1914, sailing in convoy with 36 other transports two days later. The Regiment reached the UK in mid-October but would not cross the English Channel until mid December, finally reaching the front lines early in 1915. Assigned to the British 27th Division, the PPCLI became the first Canadian fighting regiment to reach the front as it moved into the Ypres Salient, a bubble that pushed east into the enemy’s lines from the ancient trade city of Ypres.
First World War
The PPCLI moved into the line Jan. 6, 1915, taking over a former French trench described by Jeffery Williams in his biography of Gault, First in the Field: Gault of the Patricia’s, as "ditches across a sea of mud, too wide for protection from shellfire and too shallow to be bulletproof... French and German dead lay submerged in the knee-deep ooze of mud and water in the trenches and were half-buried in their walls." The first month the Patricias operated in the Ypres Salient, with periods both in the trenches and behind the line, German snipers and artillery accounted for 21 deaths; three months later, that number had risen to 85. And that does not include the number of men struck off strength for other reasons such as illness or fatigue.
It was there in the maelstrom that was the Salient, that Gault, who had already shown himself as a capable administrator concerned for the welfare of the Patricias, quickly gained the admiration of the men as an inspiring, committed and courageous field commander. During training he had ensured the Patricias had the best meals and equipment possible by hiring tailors and top-notch chefs. In the field, he led by example exposing himself to all of the same dangers and risks the men under his command faced.
This first period on the front lines was extremely hard on the Patricias. The Originals were decimated by sniper and shell fire and finding recruits to bolster the Regiment’s numbers proved difficult. Even though Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, approved of the Regiment’s creation, he did not appreciate the Patricias. He considered this British/Canadian hybrid regiment to be a wildcard as it was not under direct Canadian command, which meant he had no control over it. The result was he had little interest in supplying the Regiment with Canadian recruits.
The Patricia’s officers understood they needed to set the Regiment apart through excellence in field. An outstanding reputation would raise its profile and in effect force Hughes to provide reinforcements. A shortage of recruits was not a problem the PPCLI alone faced, however. Every Canadian regiment desperately needed reinforcements.
James Kempling, in his University of Victoria Master’s thesis, Birth of a Regiment: Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry 1914-1919, provides a startling and stark statistic: By spring 1915, Canadian regiments required about 2,000 reinforcements a month and the vast majority of those men went to the First Canadian Division and to build the Third Canadian Division. PPCLI did get some reinforcements, but Hughes viewed the Regiment as a low priority.
In late February 1915, PPCLI planned a reconnaissance-in-force to attack a German sap, a trench that ran out into no man’s land perpendicular to the main defensive trenches. The Germans were planning to use this sap only 120 feet away as a starting point for an attack. Farquhar decided PPCLI would instead take the fight to them.
The Patricia's attack included some ninety soldiers and went ahead just before dawn Feb. 28. Gault and another officer, sniping section officer Lt. “Shorty” Colquhoun, crept across no man’s land to reconnoiter the landscape and defences. This attack is significant as it became the first time a Canadian regiment went on the offensive during the war. This was the first trench raid of many and at which the Canadians would come to excel. While the raid had little strategic purpose, it was a remarkable success for the Patricias as it showed the commanders and the soldiers of PPCLI were an innovative and competent infantry battalion.
Gault participated in the raid and demonstrated his mettle as the Patricias were scrambling back to the safety of a captured German trench. Gault freed a Patricia trapped underneath two wounded comrades and ensured the wounded men were carried to safety. When he saw two stretcher bearers drop a stretcher and run, he and a volunteer crawled out and dragged the man back to the trench under a storm of bullets, one of which hit Gault in the right wrist. Capt. Agar Adamson, whose men were holding the captured trench, later wrote to his wife describing the attack and Gault’s sacrifice and example:
“Though badly hit in the wrist, he still carried on for 24 hours until the CO insisted upon his going back to England for treatment... It almost took force to get him to go. He has played the game magnificently, crawling from trench to trench and cheering up the men... He thoroughly realized what certain 1000 to 1 chance he was taking of certain death and did it. I thought of doing it myself, but was not man or mad enough to attempt it. So sure did I feel that it was certain death that I almost decided to shoot Gault in the leg to prevent his attempting it.”
Gault was awarded the Distinguished Service Order – the first Canadian to receive this medal during the war – for his actions at St. Eloi in February 1915.
The bullet wound in Gault’s wrist healed and he returned to the Regiment April 27,1915 with a draft of 47 men. It was a sad return. A German sniper had shot his friend and Commanding Officer, Lt.-Col. Farquhar, in the spine March 20, 1915. Farquhar died a few days later. Gault had little time to dwell on the death of his friend. Just days after he returned, Gault had to take command of the Regiment after a shell fragment hit the Regiment’s new Commanding Officer, Lt.-Col. Herbert Cecil Buller in the eye.
With Buller wounded, Gault led PPCLI to its new position on Bellewaerde Ridge and what would become known as the Battle of Frezenberg. The battle began for the Patricias on May 7 during the larger Second Battle of Ypres when German artillery opened fire on their position, damaging their trenches and killing and wounding a small number of men.
Battle of Frezenberg
German field artillery began firing again at dawn of May 8. An hour later, heavy Howitzers joined in, firing large calibre shells that devastated the front line defences. With heavy casualties, Gault gave all available men, including pioneers and orderlies, rifles and ordered them into the support trenches. During the bitter fighting that followed the bombardment, an explosion shredded Gault’s left arm and left thigh. One of his men propped Gault against a dead soldier until he could be moved under the cover of darkness. Once at the safety of a dressing station, Gault refused to be treated until all of his men were cared for first.
Medical Orderly Lance Corporal Leonard Heddick wrote of Gault’s fortitude, good cheer and stiff upper lip, saying: “I never saw his equal for grit . . . He lay all day with his body torn and bleeding, and it was only at night when the stretcher bearers could approach the trench to get out the wounded that he was carried away, and then he went last, absolutely refusing to go before the worst of the other cases had been taken.
He was cheerful and grinning all over when we got him to our dressing station, and kept on grinning when we pulled the blood-soaked and ragged edge of his coat and trousers and underclothing out of his torn and lacerated flesh wounds – into which, by the way, you could stick your fist.”
The PPCLI repulsed the German attack that day but at great cost: 461 struck off strength in May alone, with 215 of those men killed in battle. Only four officers and 150 soldiers returned to Ypres at the end of the battle. The Battle of Frezenberg, which is today recognized as the Regiment’s greatest battle honour, would become known in Patricia history as “the Death of the Originals.” The Originals had been decimated in the first four months the Regiment had been on the Western Front, culminating with their destruction at the Battle of Frezenberg. By war’s end, only 84 of the Originals would still be with the Patricias.
As Gault and Farquhar had hoped, the Regiment’s growing reputation, particularly following the heroic actions of the Patricias at the Battle of Frezenberg, proved to be the answer to the Regiment’s problem of attrition. Montreal businessmen and McGill University graduates George MacDonald and Percival Molson provided a solution. They proposed using companies being formed at the university to bolster the Patricia ranks. In a year and a half, from summer 1915 through to fall 1916, 1,300 university students would join PPCLI.
Eighteen per cent of those men would be commissioned as officers in the Regiment. According to Kempling, most of the members of PPCLI lasted less than one year in the line, with 1,600 men seeing only four months of service or less. The vast majority of deaths – three quarters – occurred in less than forty days of combat.
As the majority of the men who joined the five University Companies were Canadian born, the PPCLI was on its way to becoming a truly Canadian regiment. The PPCLI did, in fact, join the Third Canadian Division in 1915. The challenge of finding reinforcements had proven too great leaving the Regiment with little option but to join the Canadian Corps.
Along with sniping and trench raids, Farquhar also initiated one other important innovation; commissioning officers from within the ranks of the Patricia’s to quickly and effectively replace officers killed or wounded. In fact, one of the Originals, Charles James Stewart, who joined the Patricia’s Aug. 12, 1914, rose from Lieutenant to become the Regiment’s Commanding Officer by 1918. This advancement would have been unheard of in a Regular British Army regiment.
His military career did not culminate with the end of the First World War. He was called back into service during the Second World War, serving with the Canadian Army in England as a Colonel and then a Brigadier. After the war, he was appointed Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of the Patricias in 1948 and the first Colonel-of-the-Regiment in 1958.
Andrew Hamilton Gault died Nov. 28, 1958 and was given a military funeral in Montreal with full honours. He was, however, buried in England. Gault’s legacy and spirit continue in the Regiment to this day. Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry is one Canada’s three regular force infantry regiments in the Canadian Army. Hamilton Gault’s memory lives on in the Nature Reserve located east of Montreal that was once his private estate purchased in 1913. A statue of Gault, as a Brigadier, stands near the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
Calgary historian, professor and author David Bercuson describes him as “the true embodiment of the citizen soldier–the militiaman, with a full civilian life who also dedicated himself to the defence of his country in time of need.”
Gault’s ability as an officer, his tenacity, courage and willingness to innovate, (the same can be said for Lt.-Col. Francis Farquhar and the other Patricia officers), stands as an example of what helped to lead the Canadian Corps to an equal footing with its former master, the British Crown and its army. Canada entered the war still seen as a colony of the Crown, but by war’s end in November, 1918, Canadian soldiers, and their commanders such as Sir Arthur Currie, had become known and feared as the “storm troopers” of the British Empire.
When the Canadians moved into the line, the German soldiers opposite them, began to worry, as according to historian Norman Leach, “for, like a storm, they (Canadians) could not be stopped.” The Canadian Corps’ ability to advance despite the barriers in its way led Canadian regiments to be at the forefront of the final push that would end the war, often referred to as Canada’s Hundred Days.
By the end of the war, 60,000 Canadian soldiers had been killed, with another 190,000 wounded or missing. With that, and the reputation and ability of the Canadian Corps, as a nation, Canada won a seat at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and membership in the League of Nations’ General Assembly.
HRH Princess Patricia
The Regiment’s first Colonel-in-Chief, Her Royal Highness Princess Patricia of Connaught, was born on March 17, 1886, on St. Patrick’s Day. She was the daughter of the distinguished Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, and the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Princess Patricia’s mother was Princess Louise Marguerite of Prussia. In 1911, the Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s third son and favourite child, was appointed Governor General of Canada. He was the first Royal to take this post in Canada.
Princess Patricia, a well traveled young woman, accompanied her parents and settled into Rideau Hall in Ottawa. She endeared herself to Canadians with her easy natural style and vivacious personality. She embraced the Canadian way of life and eagerly participated in games and outdoor sports. A talented artist, she was happiest wearing her painting smock with brushes in hand and was captivated by the Canadian landscape. The glamorous and elegant Princess, who had won all hearts by her charm and beauty, graced Canada’s newest Regiment with her name.
A romantic mystique took hold for the soldiers who all adored the Princess and she took great pleasure in personally designing the Regimental cap and collar badges bearing the insignia of a single white daisy in honour of Hamilton Gault’s lovely wife, Marguerite. She also wanted to give the men something to take into battle with them and with a personal touch created what would become the Patricia’s beloved Regimental Colour, the Ric-A-Dam-Doo. It was hand-sewn by the Princess herself and presented to the Regiment on August 23, 1914. What was initially meant as a camp flag, to mark the Patricia’s camp or headquarters, the Ric-A-Dam-Doo, which is Gaelic for the “mother’s cloth”, became much more important; it became a symbol of endurance, of valour and of heroism - values the soldiers of PPCLI embodied with pride.
The Ric-A-Dam-Doo, a crimson flag with Princess Patricias gold cipher (the initials VP extending from a crown) on a royal blue circle, is the only camp flag or Regimental Colour, British and Canadian, to have been carried into battle. Every time the Regiment went into action, the Ric-A-Dam-Doo was with them, including during the Second Battle of Ypres. It was on Bellewaerde Ridge during the Battle of Frezenberg when the wounded Regimental Sergeant-Major rallied the Patricias by waving the Ric-A-Dam-Doo.
The Ric-A-Dam-Doo became the Patricia’s official Regimental Colour when the Regiment’s founder, Lt.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Gault, had the flag consecrated as part of a ceremony in Belgium on January 28,1919. When the Regiment returned to England and held a final Parade for its namesake in Bramshott on Feb. 21, Princess Patricia, the Regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief, added one more element to the flag. She attached to the flag a gilt silver laurel wreath, known as the Wreath of Immortelles, to honour the Regiment’s heroic service throughout the war.
Throughout the early war years Princess Patricia worked for the Canadian Red Cross and upon her return to England in 1916 she worked at the Maple Leaf Club for Canadian Soldiers in London and at the Canadian Hospital in Orpington. All her efforts were focused on helping wounded Canadian soldiers during the war.
Princess Patricia held her appointment as Colonel-in-Chief and played an active role in the Regiment until her death. She was succeeded in 1974 by her cousin and goddaughter, the Rt. Hon. Lady Patricia Brabourne, the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, and daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten. The Countess asked that her titles be disregarded and that she be referred to as Lady Patricia in honour of her predecessor. Madame Adrienne Clarkson, a former Governor General of Canada, took over the appointment on March 17, 2007, becoming the first Canadian to hold the appointment and serves currently as the Regiment’s third Colonel-in-Chief.
The original Ric-A-Dam-Doo was retired in 1922. It now resides in the Hall of Honour at the PPCLI Museum at the The Military Museums in Calgary and represents the heart and spirit of the Regiment. Each Battalion of PPCLI today carries a replica of the Ric-A-Dam-Doo.
In 2013, Canadian singer and songwriter Bryan Adams and co-writer Jim Vallance wrote a song, The Ric-A-Dam-Doo, about the Patricia’s beloved flag. It was commissioned by former Governor-General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, the Patricia’s Colonel-in-Chief, to commemorate the Regiment’s centennial and raise money for the PPCLI Foundation. The lyrics were sung by the wives of Edmonton-based members of the PPCLI.