Place of Birth: Melrose, Guys. Co.
Mother's Name: Catherine Ann (Sullivan) Tate
Father's Name: Daniel Tate
Date of Enlistment: August 24, 1914 at Ottawa
Regimental Number: 549
Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force
Regiment: Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry
Location of service: Canada, England, Belgium & France
Occupation at Enlistment: Teamster
Marital Status at Enlistment: Single
Next of Kin: W. D. (Daniel) Tate, father
*: Attestation paper gives year of birth as 1885. A list of birth dates in the Tate family Bible lists year of birth as 1880.
Jack then travelled to western Canada in search of work, and was living in Edmonton at the time of the outbreak of war in Europe. He apparently spent several years in the United States at some time prior to 1914. Jack's attestation document lists 18 months' service in the Coast Artillery, 24th Company, American Army in addition to 6 months' service on American Navy submarines, experience that was critical to his acceptance into the first contingent of Canadian soldiers sent overseas.
In the early days of August, a wealthy Montreal businessman approached the Canadian government with a solution. Andrew Hamilton Gault, a veteran of the South African (Boer) war, pledged to personally raise a regiment for service with British forces in France. He initially offered to create a mounted unit, but Minister of Militia Sam Hughes insisted that an infantry regiment would be more appropriate. The result was the formation of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Regiment on August 10, 1914, one week after Britain's formal declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.
|Princess Patricia of Connaught|
Gault personally financed the recruitment and equipment of the PPCLI, and served overseas as its second-in-command. Recruiters appealed to former British Army soldiers and Boer War veterans in an effort to reduce the amount of training required prior to deployment. Campaigns were launched in Canada's six largest cities at the time - Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. The response was overwhelming, as by August 19, 3000 men applied for admission. Careful screening reduced this number to 1098 "other ranks", out of which 1049 had logged military service somewhere in the British Empire.
|Original Regimental Colors, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry|
|PPCLI camp at Levis, Quebec - September 1914|
In early November, the regiment relocated to Winchester, where it became part of the 27th British Division. On November 4, HRH King George V reviewed the troops preparing for battle at Bustard Camp, Salisbury Plain, accompanied by HM the Queen and Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener. Upon examining the ranks of the PPCLI, the King commented: "This is the finest battalion I have ever inspected." Of its approximately 1000 members, 771 wore military decorations or service medals for the occasion. The presence of such veteran soldiers no doubt explains the strong impression the regiment made that day. This valuable experience would soon be put to the test in the trenches of Europe.
|Unidentified PPCLI members in England, 1914|
The PPCLI left Winchester in the morning of December 20, proceeding by road to the port of Southampton. Jack followed the other members of the battalion up the gangway onto the transport ship that would carry them across the English Channel to France. The vessel embarked from Southampton at 7 pm in fine weather, arriving off the coast of Le Havre, France at 5 am December 21. As the members of the PPCLI disembarked at 2 pm that day, they became the first - and only - Canadian infantry regiment deployed in the European theatre of war in 1914.
On December 29, several PPCLI officers visited the front trenches of the 3rd British Division at Kimmel to "learn [the] method of relief and gain experience" for front line duty. After spending the first few days of the New Year at Blaringhem, Jack and the members of the PPCLI moved to Dickebusch, Belgium on January 5, in what proved to be an uncomfortable march. The battalion diary noted that the men were "much handicapped from want of boots… many men marching with no soles at all…." The following day - January 6, 1915 - Jack and his fellow Canadians logged their first day of duty at the front lines, relieving the 55th French Regiment and occupying 1150 yards of trench "…in waterlogged condition… [with] few dugouts". The Brigade Major's report stated that "all men are over their ankles in water - some up to their knees. All cheerful…. Draining [is] impossible until rain stops as [the] ground [is] completely flooded".
|Regimental War Diary sketch of PPCLI trenches, January 1915|
One week later, Jack was back in the front lines near St. Eloi, where the "trenches [were] in bad order, parapets not bulletproof and [there were] few loopholes" through which soldiers could observe the enemy. An additional 2 men were killed and 4 wounded during two days' duty before the battalion was relieved on January 16. Such was the routine for the battalion over the following month - a brief stint in the front trenches before being relieved for several days' rest - as commanding officers allowed the men time to adjust to the routines and dangers of front line combat.
Jack's time in the front trenches was interrupted on January 22 when he was admitted to the General Hospital at Rouen for treatment of myalgia, perhaps the result of the strenuous demands of trench repair. He spent two and a half weeks in hospital before being discharged to a convalescent camp on February 9, returning for duty with the PPCLI on February 15. During his absence, the regimental war diary marked the end of its first month at the front by taking note of its losses - 3 officers killed and 2 wounded; 20 "other ranks" killed and 30 wounded.
|PPCLI Cap Badge|
Led by Major Gault and several other officers, the men crossed "no man's land" and entered the German position without difficulty. A detailed report describes the conflict that unfolded. One officer was killed immediately upon entering the trench, while another officer - Lt. Colville Crabbe - led a small party down the trench. Meanwhile, Lt. Papineau "ran down the trench outside the parapet throwing bombs into the trench". Lt. Crabbe's party continued down the trench until the men encountered "a barrier behind which the Germans had collected: at this point all… except one of the party with Lt. Crabbe were out of action…. After some twenty minutes occupation of the trench, combined with work in demolishing the parapet, orders were given for the attackers to withdraw. The withdrawal was successfully carried out though daylight was rapidly appearing."
The attack succeeded in destroying the menacing sap and 30 yards of the parapet that had protected the German soldiers occupying the position. This military success, like all others, came at a cost. Both Major Gault and Lt. Crabbe were wounded, along with 7 "other ranks". More tragically, 5 "other ranks" were killed, and one officer and two "other ranks" were missing in action. The attack represents the regiment's first offensive action on the Western Front, a significant event in its history.
Pte. John William 'Jack' Tate is amongst the men listed as "killed in action" on February 28, 1915. The circumstances of his death are not clear. He may have been one of the "other ranks" killed in the trench raid. Family sources, however, relate that his parents received a letter from a regimental officer, describing the events that took place on that fateful day. According to its content, Jack was one of several men who volunteered to enter "no man's land" to retrieve an injured comrade, likely one of the men wounded in the morning raid. He was mortally wounded by German sniper fire during this action. Unfortunately, the letter has not been preserved by any known family members. However, a memorial plaque originally placed in the Freemason Hall and later moved to the Kirk Memorial United Church in Aspen relates this account of Jack's death. It remains on display there to this day.
|Memorial Plaque, Kirk Memorial United Church (Photo courtesy of Major George R. Nye)|
|Roll of Honor, Kirk Memorial United Church (Photo courtesy of Bonnie McGrath)|
|Pte. John William Tate's Memorial Plaque (Photo courtesy of Major George R. Nye)|
"First Battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry." National Defence Canada. Available online.
"PPCLI and the Great War". Canadian Military Heritage Society. Available online.
Regimental documents of Pte. John William Tate, No. 549. Library and Archives Canada. RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 9508 - 14 . Available online.
War Diaries of the First World War: Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. 1914/11/04 - 1915/10/31. Library and Archives Canada. RG9 , Militia and Defence , Series III-D-3, Volume 4911 , Reel T-10703 File : 346. Available online.
I am particularly grateful for additional information on the Pte. John W. Tate's story and photographs provided by family members June Tate (Melrose, Guys. Co.) and Major George R. Nye (Red Deer, Alta.).