EDMONTON—The renowned Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry has launched a cross-country relay to mark its centennial and commemorate those among its ranks who died in defence of freedom.
The Memorial Baton Relay left Edmonton on Aug. 10 and will arrive in Lansdowne Park in Ottawa—where the regiment first paraded 100 years ago—on Sept. 18. The baton carries the names of the 1,866 members who have been killed in action since World War I.
The approximately 50 soldiers taking part in the relay will retrace the route used by original Princess Patricia’s troops as they were called to service on Aug.10, 1914.
The Princess Pats’ storied history began when, immediately after the start of World War I, prominent Montreal businessman Andrew Hamilton Gault offered the government $100,000 (about $2.5 million today) to raise a battalion to be the first Canadian unit to serve in the battlefield.
The regiment was named in honour of Princess Patricia of Connaught, the daughter of the Governor General at the time. Princess Patricia hand-sewed the original regimental colour, which was nicknamed the Ric-a-Dam-Doo, and presented it to the regiment at its first parade.
“I shall follow the fortunes of you all with the greatest interest. I wish every man good luck and a safe return,” the Princess told the assembled soldiers.
The colour was treasured by the regiment, which became known as the Originals, and was carried into every WWI battle in which its soldiers fought.
Formed mostly of veterans settled in Canada who had served previously with the British forces, the Patricias, as they are fondly called, left for France in September 1914.
Despite suffering heavy casualties in the terrible trench warfare of the Great War, the regiment led the way in many important battles, and was part of the Canadian forces’ triumph in taking Vimy Ridge from the Germans.
During WWII, the Patricias played a key role in battles in Italy starting in 1943, and went on to fight to liberate the Netherlands in 1945. The regiment, which has three battalions, also fought in Korea and Afghanistan, and has been part of numerous peacekeeping missions.
In all, the regiment has garnered 39 battle honours, three Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendations, and the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation.
“The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry have always done the Canadian Army proud. From Frezenberg to Leonforte, and from Kapyong to the Balkans and Afghanistan, PPCLI soldiers have battled with tremendous tenacity, courage, and passion,” Lieutenant-General Marquis Hainse, commander of the Canadian Army, said in a statement.
The Memorial Baton Relay will cross five provinces—Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec—making stops in 22 cities along the way.
The stops will feature displays of equipment and uniforms used by the Patricias since their formation to the present day. Former hockey player David “Tiger” Williams and actor/director Paul Gross, the honourary team captains of the relay, will be present at some of the stops.
Following the relay, the baton will be on display at the Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium. On May 8, 2015, it will be featured during a ceremony at the Frezenberg Memorial, which is dedicated to the Patricias.
It was in May 1914 that the regiment saw its first major action during WWI and played a critical role in stopping a German offensive at Frezenberg. But the losses were so great that the Battle of Frezenberg became known within the regiment as the “Death of the Originals.”