ARCHIVED - Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry marks a century of distinguished service to Canada at Frezenberg Commemoration

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Article / May 20, 2015

Approximately 150 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI) concluded 100th anniversary celebrations in Europe during the period 7-11 May 2015, marking a century of distinguished service to Canada.

The Frezenberg Commemoration, namely the final portion of PPCLI centennial activities, retraced the footsteps of the “Originals” during the First World War in the Ypres Salient. Ceremonial services were subsequently conducted at Voormezele, Frezenberg and the Menin Gate, supplemented by a freedom of the City of Ypres parade.

Voormezele service

Just after sunrise in the small town of Voormezele, distinguished guests and Patricias gathered at Cemetery Enclosure Number 3, affectionately known as the PPCLI Regimental Cemetery of the Great War, to conduct a solemn and intimate service commemorating PPCLI sacrifices.

Inside the walls of Enclosure Number 3 are the final resting places of 59 Patricias, the majority of who fell while serving Canada and the Commonwealth on the front lines at St-Eloi from January 8th to March 24th, 1915. To honour and pay tribute to them, 59 serving members of 2 PPCLI stood behind each of their fallen Regimental brothers headstones and placed a small PPCLI flag to distinguish them amongst the fallen.  

We gathered at Voormezele on May 8th, 2015, precisely one hundred years after the PPCLI Originals held firm at Bellewaerde Ridge and counted not the cost,”  said Lieutenant-Colonel (LCol) Bob Ritchie, Commanding Officer 2 PPCLI.

Current soldiers of the Regiment are privileged to retrace the symbolic steps of our Regimental forefathers as we embark on another hundred years of service to Canada.” 

Notable among the many PPCLI interred at Enclosure Number 3 are the first two Commanding Officers of the Regiment, LCol Farquhar and LCol Buller, both of whom were awarded the Distinguished Service Order for gallantry under fire.

Just prior to the conclusion of the service, the Memorial Baton Relay team departed on the final leg of their journey retracing the steps the Originals took 100 years ago to the day before their first major battle in World War One. 

Frezenberg service

Conducted 100 years to the day of the battle on the very same terrain, the Frezenberg Service memorialized Canada’s participation in the historic action, rededicating a refurbished Frezenberg Memorial in-front of many invited guests, spectators, and media on-site.

In attendance at the morning service were dignitaries from Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Canada. This included The Reviewing Officer for the Parade, The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the Commander Canadian Army, Lieutenant-General Marquise Hainse.

 “The Battle of Frezenberg forged the regiment as a combat effective force,”  said Lieutenant-General Marquise Hainse, Commander Canadian Army.

 “Despite great losses, the soldiers fought bravely that day as they found themselves holding the line. Today's soldiers of the PPCLI carry on this distinguished legacy and they, like those who fought before them, are strong, proud, and ready for another century of service.” 

Service spectators initially made their way to the PPCLI Memorial by foot along a historic battlefield walk, retracing the very ground bled upon at Frezenberg a century ago. Sited in the farmers’ fields were large display boards that pinpointed the exact positions where the Originals fought so valiantly to the death defending Bellewaerde Ridge.  During the actions of 7-8 May 1915, 392 members of the Regiment were killed, severely wounded or declared missing.

Shortly after the start of the service, the Memorial Baton Relay arrived at Frezenberg, having symbolically retraced the initial deployment of the PPCLI through the Regimental rest area at Dickebush to the front line at Bellewaerde Ridge. 

On arrival at Frezenberg, the baton was passed from the youngest PPCLI soldier in Europe to the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and subsequently placed in a glass case. The case was then sealed and will eventually be housed on display at The Museum of the Regiments in Calgary, Alberta.

The refurbished PPCLI Memorial, which was surrounded by four Vigil Guards and one holder of the replica Ric-A-Dam-Doo Colour dressed in WWI period uniforms, was then officially unveiled. The Memorial now includes a new centennial plaque, commemorating the service on 8 May 2015, as well as a Canadian Sugar Maple tree and a bronze Marguerite flower insignia, indicative of the original cap badge worn by the PPCLI at Frezenberg.

A poignant moment during the service was “The Fall in of The Old Guard,” which saw veteran Patricias march to the cadence of the Edmonton Police Service Pipes and Drums band from the battlefield at the conclusion of the service.

Freedom of the City of Ypres

Members of 2 PPCLI paraded proudly through the streets of Ypres with their bayonets fixed, drums beating and colours flying for only the third time in Regimental history as they exercised the freedom of the City of Ypres, exploiting the honour initially bestowed on the Regiment on 12 August 1964. The tradition, which can be traced back to the 17th Century when military units were granted the privilege of protecting towns, is the highest honour a military unit can receive from a municipality.

To commence the ceremony, LCol Bob Ritchie, summoned the Mayor of Ypres, The Honourable Jan Durnez, by knocking on the door of City Hall with the hilt of his sword to ask for permission to exercise the parade. The request was graciously granted by the Mayor of Ypres after an inspection of the troops.

 “Parading through the beautiful City of Ypres was an incredible experience and one of the highlights of my career, ”  said Master Corporal Tyler Culbert.

 “Seeing the locals cheering us on tells us that the PPCLI are remembered fondly and our sacrifices here made a big difference.” 

The 2 PPCLI Drum Line conducted an inspired performance which delighted spectators as the parade departed Ypres Cloth Hall for their route through the City of Ypres. The event demonstrated the Regiment's historic association with the City of Ypres, and judging by the thousands of locals who witnessed the parade, that association is as strong as ever.

Menin Gate

In the evening, 2 PPCLI participated in a service at The Menin Gate, a massive memorial dedicated to Allied soldiers killed in the First World War with no known grave in Ypres. The Menin Gate has the names of over 700 Patricias engraved on its walls which echo with the sounds of bugles each evening as the Last Post is played.

 “Participating in this ceremony, directly in front of the engraved names of fallen Patricias and commonwealth soldiers, lets those who have fallen know that they are not forgotten and never will be, ”  said Captain Andy Mitton, Parade Adjutant, 2 PPCLI.   “A testament to what they accomplished is that hundreds of spectators still come each evening to pay their respects at the Menin Gate.”  “

Spectators, who had lined up at least an hour before the service, were packed within and surrounding the memorial as the PPCLI Colonel-in-Chief, Madame Clarkson laid a wreath on behalf of the Regiment in an inner corridor of the Hall of Memory where the names of 54,896 soldiers with no known grave are inscribed.

Spectators dispersed after the final Rouse, enjoying the freedom which was achieved a century ago at such a heavy price by the individuals whose names are etched in stone on the Menin Gate.

Taken collectively, the PPCLI Frezenberg Commemorative events were a fitting tribute to a century of dedicated service and supreme sacrifice. The maroon, gold, and royal blue of the PPCLI Colours is well situated to fly with distinction for another 100 years.

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