Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry
by Claudia Willetts
Canada was highly honoured when it was announced that His Majesty King George V had been pleased to appoint as its tenth Governor-General, His Royal Highness The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, third son of Queen Victoria. So reads the introduction by John Cowan in Canada’s Governors-General 1867-1952, of the description of Princess Patricia’s father’s time as Governor-General of Canada, 1911-1916.
Princess Patricia was born in Buckingham Palace on 17 March 1886, as we are told by Major-General Sir George Aston in His Royal Highness The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn: A Life and Intimate Study. As her birthday was Saint Patrick’s Day, there could be little doubt about at least one of the names selected. At the time of Princess Patricia’s family’s stay in Canada, the Princess was in her mid-twenties, and unmarried. Princess Patricia had a genuine affection for Canada and this feeling was warmly reciprocated. Canadians liked the Duke’s daughter’s high spirits, informality, and interest in sports of all types.
Over the summer of 1914, as war grew inevitable, it was announced that Canada would begin to mobilise. During sixteen days, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment was founded through the personal initiative and expense of Captain Andrew Hamilton Gault, as a battalion largely of veterans of the Boer War. While the Princess carried on her untiring support of her father’s activities in Canada throughout the first years of World War I, it is unlikely that her name would be as well-known, without her having been closely associated with the raising of this, her “own” Canadian regiment. Before leaving for overseas, the regiment paraded at Ottawa before the Duke, the Duchess, and the Princess who presented them with the gift of a red, blue and gold camp colour which she had made herself.
When Princess Patricia said farewell to her regiment, she told them that she would follow their fortunes closely, and wished everyone a safe return. The “Princess Pats” were inspected by King George V in England, and then proceeded to the front in France and Flanders. Throughout the whole of their war service, this regiment gave the Princess every reason to be proud that it should bear her name. They never lost a position or failed to reach an objective. They received three Victoria Crosses, and suffered severe casualties. Only forty-four of 1,098 original men returned with the regiment at the end of the war. Princess Patricia kept a scrap-book of items that concerned her regiment, and she took the greatest personal interest in all the men, even knitting for them.
EC Russell in Customs and Traditions of the Canadian Armed Forces, tells us that the camp colour was consecrated as the regimental colour after the war, and that Princess Patricia, now colonel-in-chief, presented a laurel wreath of silver gilt, known as the “Wreath of Immortelles” to be borne on the regimental colour, in recognition of their heroic services.
The Patricias were quickly brought up to full strength at the beginning of World War II, inspected by King George VI, and reviewed by their colonel-in-chief, who had become Lady Patricia Ramsay following her marriage. They engraved on Italy a record that was as glorious in accomplishment as it was tragic in losses, according to Ducimus: The Regiments of the Canadian Infantry, compiled by Major Michael Mitchell. Not long afterward, the regiment entered war again, this time in Korea, where the 2nd Battalion became the only Canadian unit to receive the Distinguished Unit Citation from the President of the United States to recognise the bravery of its stand near Kapyong, 1951. The use of a streamer attached to the pike of the regimental colour representing this honour, an American practice, was authorised by King George VI shortly before his death.
The sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the regiment was celebrated in 1974, though Lady Patricia Ramsay had died in January of that year, after almost sixty years of fostering its well-being with affection and pride, according to Jeffery Williams in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Before her death, Lady Patricia made it known that, subject to the wishes of the regiment, she hoped her successor as colonel-in-chief would be her god-daughter, Lady Patricia Brabourne, (now Countess Mountbatten of Burma), who was also a great granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The regiment was delighted, the Queen approved, and so the new colonel-in-chief took the salute at the trooping the colour in the diamond jubilee year. By express wish of her father Lord Mountbatten, who had accompanied the new colonel-in-chief on three visits to the regiment, a thirty-man guard represented the regiment at his funeral five years later. Countess Mountbatten remains a devoted colonel-in-chief to her regiment the PPCLI, and regularly visits them wherever they are serving as peacekeepers in the world.