CFB SHILO — On the eve of the First World War, Andrew Hamilton Gault, a prominent Montreal businessman, had a proposition for the Canadian government.
Not knowing how long the war would last, he put up $100,000 of his own money to help fund a new military regiment — one made up of previously trained men ready for battle.
He wanted a group of men who could get to Europe as quickly as possible.
The next month, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment was on the ground in France.
It was the first and only Canadian unit to serve in the theatre of operation in 1914. But it wasn’t until the following year that the 1,098-strong regiment faced its first real battle.
The Battle of Frezenberg, part of the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium, was considered to be the birth of the regiment — and the "Death of the Originals."
The regiment lost 398 men during a massive German offensive.
While the nation marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry — now stationed at CFB Shilo — is marking its 100th year, along with two Edmonton-based PPCLI battalions.
While warfare has changed since 1914 — the introduction of automatic weapons, chemical warfare airplanes and heavy artillery — being a soldier hasn’t, said Lt.-Col. Bob Ritchie.
"The human spirit resonates. That of complete commitment to a task, to an organization, and to your country," he said. "Our ancestors represent all that is good with being a Canadian soldier ... those things motivate our soldiers today."
The army learned during the war to work directly with allies in an effort to mask each other’s weaknesses.
"We were not unlike our allies. We were all developing these tactics at the same time, the armies were really sharing," Ritchie said.
While all known Canadian First World War veterans have passed away — and with only a few local Second World War veterans living — Ritchie said the connection between the Great War and current soldiers is still strong. Pride, camaraderie and unique cultures of small groups of the army, like 2PPCLI, are meant to foster traditions that span generations.
"There’s much to be learned and our traditions are nested in that," he said.
The regiment’s official formal flag lists many key battles it has been involved in, including in the First World War.
And to keep tradition alive with newer soldiers, Ritchie’s regiment invites veterans to the base regularly to speak with current soldiers.
"If it’s just a book and a story, it’s hard to really understand the human dimension," he said.
It has now been 10 years since the battalion has been stationed at CFB Shilo.
PPCLI has grand plans to fly its colours across the country this year.
Members of the PPCLI battalions will participate in a relay across the country later this month, retracing the journey of those 1,098 men who travelled to Ottawa in 1914 to be part of the newly formed regiment.
The regiment will also mark its 100th year by travelling to hallowed grounds in Frezenberg.
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