The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, or Princess Pats, is one of the oldest and most historic of Canada’s army regiments. It’s members have been fiercely proud of it’s rather feminine name since it was first formed in 1914, and have earned the regiment a reputation for toughness and regimental pride that is rarely matched in most military formations.
The Princess Pats were formed in 1914 in Edmonton, Alberta, by Captain Andrew Hamilton Gault. Canada’s military was almost non-existant before the First World War, consisting of militia groups which were mainly gentlemen’s clubs for the wealthy. Hamilton Gault contributed $100,000 (about $2.1 million today) to raise a regiment at the outbreak of war. The Canadian Parliament approved the formation and Hamilton Gault named the regiment after the Duke of Connaught’s daughter, Princess Patricial of Connaught (whom Hamilton Gault was rumored to be enamored with).
In 1915 the first 1,049 men of the Princess Pat’s, almost all veterans of the Boer War, embarked for the battlefields of France. Their first action was the defence of Bellewaerde Ridge in Flanders, in which 500 of their number, including all their officers, were killed in the first 3 days. This would begin a bloody tradition for one of Canada’s toughest and most fabled regiments.
The Princess Pats were originally assigned to a British division, and thus participated heavily in the Somme battle in 1916, mainly around Mount Sorrel. The regiment would lose another 600 men of all ranks in this battle. Finally, in 1917, the Princess Pats were organized into Canada’s first independent army at Vimy Ridge, under Canadian General Arthur Currie. The Princess Pats performed valiantly at Vimy Ridge and then, four months later, would be thrown into the mire and maelstrom of Passchendaele where they would again prove themselves by winning 4 Victoria Crosses and losing 80% of their number.
This tough regiment from Edmonton, named after a Princess in England, was kept intact during the inter-war years while most other military formations were decommissioned. When the Second World War broke out in 1939 the Princess Pats were again called on to serve in Europe. Their first action was in Sicily, followed by a deadly slugging match up the Italian peninsula and the bloody Battle of Ortona. They were honoured with being Canada’s first regiment to enter Rome following the American liberation of that historic city. The regiment kept up to its tragic reputation with more than 1,000 losses during the Italian campaign.
In 1945 the Princess Pats were transferred from Italy to England and participated in the final battles for the Netherlands and the Schwelt Estuary, and became the first Allied formation to enter and liberate Amsterdam, earning Dutch gratitude and recognition of this famous unit.
The Princess Pats were sent home from Europe in 1946, although a battalion of the regiment was kept in Europe as the Cold War heated up.
In 1950 the Princess Pats were called up yet again, this time to serve in Korea, and became the first Canadian unit to take part in the war. The Princess Pats took part in the Battle of Kapyong, holding back 2 Chinese divisions while a New Zealand and a British regiment retreated in disarray. The Princess Pats held Hill 355 in a salient jutting into North Korean territory throughout the war, and threw back no less than 250 communist assaults on the hill. During the war the PPCLI lost another 200 men.
Since 1950, the Princess Pats have been involved in numerous peacekeeping operations around the world, including Golan, Somalia, Rwanda, Croatia and Kosovo. The regiment has continued to pay a high price, losing another 55 soldiers in the late 20th Century during peacekeeping missions.
In 2002 the Princess Pats were sent to Afghanistan, part of Canada’s contribution to the war on terrorism. The regiment continued its tragic history when an American F-16 fighter bomber mistook a column of Princess Patricia’s for the Taliban and bombed them, killing 7 Canadian soldiers (for which the US government and military have never officially apologized). In 2004 the Princess Pats took up positions in south-west Kandahar province in Afghanistan alongside the Royal Canadian Rifles, where it would stay and fight for the next four years. In 2008 the Princess Pats were replaced by the Royal 22ieme Regiment (the Van Dooz). During the 6 years in Afghanistan the Princess Pats lost 70 men, including a Colonel.
The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry continues it’s 100 year tradition of being a tough, bloodied and fiercely proud regiment. From the great plains of northern Alberta, the Princess Pats will continue to honour their history and their nation for many generations to come.