Frezenburg (PPCLI)

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. 

The Final 100 Days: France Reclaimed - November 6, 1918

The push along the Western Front continued. In the north-east of France, Canadian forces incessantly marched after the retreating German Army. 

France was nearly back under the complete control of the Allies. Near the Belgian border, Canadians engaged in multiple, battalion level operation aimed at capturing the innumerable villages along their area of the front. 

Rivers and canals were everywhere, forcing Canadian engineer units to come to the front. Shaky bridges and rafts were often built under direct fire from the enemy on the other side of the water. 

These were needed as the Corps crossed the rivers Honnelle and Aunelle, straddling the Franco-Belgian border. By nightfall, enemy strongpoints along the rivers had been ground out, and a new (temporary) front line established. 

Elements David Watson’s 4th Division captured a number of villages in their advance, Crespin being chief among them. Through the evening, the 4th would be relieved by Henry Burstall’s 2nd Division. 

The Final 100 Days: The Pursuit to Mons - November 5, 1918

On the Western Front, the remnants of the Imperial German Army were in open retreat. The Canadian Corps kept hot on the German’s heels. 

A cold rain washed over the advancing Corps. 

The 5th C.M.R would make another attempt to capture Vicq. Entering the city early in the morning, they found it deserted. British forces operating south had pressured the two German battalions to leave. 

Men of the 12th Brigade achieved success at Quarouble, in spite of an organized German defence. 

Canadian Forces pursued the retreating Germans across the open plains of Northern France, towards the Belgian city of Mons. 

The Final 100 Days: Hustling the Hun - November 4, 1918

Allied forces continued to mount pressure on what remained of the Imperial German Army. Northern France had nearly liberated. German defences in Belgium continued to crumble.

Still, pockets of German resistance remained. The 12th Brigade ran into German defences outside of the village of Quarouble.  Fighting would continue there until the next day.

Stiffer resistance fell upon the 3rd Canadian Divisions. Their advance brought them to the mining village of Vicq. Staunch defenders had hidden themselves in slag heaps, houses, and cellars. Though German forces were still in a full state of retreat, rearguard forces still held onto positions where the ground favoured the defenders. 

Though the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles managed to neutralize many of the slag heap defences, German counterattacks drove them from their new positions. They would return in force the next day. 

The Final 100 Days: Austria Surrenders! - November 3, 1918

Another Central Power left the war. On November 3rd, 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Government signed the Treaty of Villa Giusti, bringing its involvement in the First World War to an end. 

Germany was left alone. 

Former First Quartermaster General of the Imperial German Army, Erich Ludendorff, had once remarked “...We can’t stand up to the whole world”. Now, they would have to do exactly that. 

The Canadian victory at Valenciennes enabled the advancement of the Allied line all along the Western Front.

Sir Douglas Haig, Commander of the B.E.F, had ordered a huge “set-piece” Offensive for the four Allied armies operating in the Western theatre. 

However, the Germans fell back on to old tactics. In a similar fashion to their withdrawals during the Drocourt-Queant campaign, German forces quietly withdrew from their strongpoints along the Canal de L’Escaut, leaving only a few rearguard forces to cover their retreat.

In place of “set-piece” attacks, Haig ordered a general advance. Allied divisions were encouraged to act on their own initiative, and to continue hounding German forces. 

Though Armistice talks were underway, many on Allied High Command (John Pershing in particular) believed German forces would take advantage of the ceasefire to regroup their forces and relaunch hostilities. With this in mind, orders to push the Germans out of France and Belgium were issued. Regaining lost ground was of paramount importance. 

By nightfall, elements of the 4th Canadian Division had reached the Estreux-Onnaing Road, but had not encountered a single German unit. 

For now, Canadian Forces would receive no rest. Operations would continue the next day.