As one of the most well known and well respected regiments in Canadian military history, a certain mystique surrounds the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
Founded for service on August 10th, 1914, the PPCLI was bankrolled by Hamilton Gault. Gault, a prominent Montrealer and hugely successful businessman, invested $100,000 of his own funds in the Regiment.
In stark contrast to other Canadian units, the majority of the 1,098 men comprising the PPCLI had prior combat experience, whether with the British military or during the Boer War. In addition, they had trained with the British military after embarking for England on September 27th, 1914.
After a brief training period, the PPCLI landed in France on December 21st, 1914.
By early May, the Princess Patricia's had been shifted to another portion of the line, just outside Ypres. Here, the Princess Patricia's would begin to forge their reputation as a strong force on the Western Front.
Frezenburg lay just to the north-east of Ypres itself. In addition to the 28th British Division, the PPCLI were in the vicinity of the First Canadian Division.
The attack at Ypres between the 22nd and 24th of April had tested the Canadian Division. However, the Princess Patricia's operated within the British Army, not the Canadian Corps. This left this neigh-untouched by the gas attack on the Canadians.
Princess Patricia's Regiment would soon have their first taste of combat, though. Continued attacks by the German Fourth Army had pushed the Allied lines back considerably, near the PPCLI's positions at Frezenberg.
May 8th saw the renewal of German assaults on the Ypres salient. The towns of Verlorenhoek and Frezenberg fell early in the day, and the Germans advanced on the Frezenberg Ridge.
Heavy enemy fire on the PPCLI's positions "obliterated whole sections" of the Patricia's line. The Pats lost 2 of their 4 machine guns, which were invaluable to a defensive position. In the face of heavy German attacks, the Regiment was forced to retreat to their main defensive lines on the crest of the ridge.
In order to buy time and space, the retreat was carried out secretly. The Pats kept the illusion of a fully manned front line, dissuading the Germans from launching another full assault.
The ruse worked. Once the Germans launched an attack, they found the lines empty.
In their new positions, Princess Patricia's Regiment was punished by an enormous German artillery barrage. Through the bombardment, Lt. Colonel Agar Adamson wrote to his wife.
"It seems certain that this line cannot be held and we are only making a bluff at it."
Shortly after 9 am, the Germans began an assault. From their position, the PPCLI fought valiantly. For fifteen straight hours, these men fought and died shoulder to shoulder, bearing the storm of steel cast upon them by resolute German attackers.
The founder and funder of the Regiment, Hamilton Gault, was soon severely wounded. He passed command to Adamson, who in turn was soon wounded. As the hours wore on, the forces wore thin.
By the time British forces relieved the Princess Patricia's at midnight, only 150 men out of the original 700 were left unscathed. The Regiment was pulled from the lines, and given time to recover.
Though they did not fight with the Canadian Corps, they fought as proud Canadians. They would go on to stand shoulder to shoulder with their brothers at Passchendaele, the Somme, and other battles, but the battle of Frezenberg holds a special importance for the PPCLI, and rightfully so. The Battle cemented their place in history as an elite fighting unit.