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Mabel & Agar Adamson, the PPCLI & the Duke of Connaught - 1

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Mystery Man, Nurses, Hamilton Gault, the Duke of Connaught, Agar Adamson, Mabel Adamson, Mystery Lady
Brundall House, Norfolk, Summer 1915
Orig. photo postcard
Found - Eugene, OR

Rescued from the Trash Heap of History!

An absolutely fabulous, and rare photo, of some famous figures in Canadian history, after being erroneously posted on ebay as: "Two British generals, one possibly General Plumer, with two nurses."

They got the nurses right, but that's all. What generals? Certainly not General Plumer. So who can they all be???

We believe, in fact, that the photo is of a unique Canadian group centred around Queen Victoria's son, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, who, at the time the photo was taken, was a Field Marshall, and Governor General of Canada (1911-1916.)

The grouping is easily explained because of the presence, we believe, of Canadians Agar and Mabel Adamson, who were high society folk in Ottawa, Ontario, before the war, and so were well acquainted, socially, with the Duke when he lived there.

Across the decades, Mabel's kindly eyes, and ski-hill nose, jutting down over her mouth, give her a unique pixie-ish look.

Left, Agar and Mabel in 1898, a year before they married, and Agar volunteered for service in South Africa during the Boer War. Right, Agar, c 1914, before his face had been marked by seeing the horrors of trench warfare.

Is it a match?

NOT !!! - Michael Therrien, who says he is a PPCLI expert and researcher, took the strongest exception to our claim, and in a long written critique, while granting that though it may be the Duke of Connaught in the picture and two nurses, was emphatic that none of the other figures were even a debatable match for: the Duke's daughter, Princess Patricia, Agar, Mabel, or Gault. He said all the likenesses are totally off, our claim preposterou, but the clincher for him was Agar's uniform, "which is that of a general staff officer, which Agar would never have worn."

He noted the red gorget tabs which our purported Agar figure, like the Duke, clearly has.

Michael is totally wrong on this of course.

We need only point him to Victor Taboika's fabulous new Military Antiques and Collectables of the Great War where he can find several World War I Canadian uniforms that feature red gorget tabs - which many casual experts mistakenly believe were only worn by generals - adorning the uniforms of Lieut. Colonels of Canadian regiments.
Right the gorget tabs of Lieut. Col. Cameron Edwards of the 38th Infantry Battalion. Red, relatively unobtrusive gorget tabs on lapels - so far-away Boer snipers couldn't pick out the officers for special attention - were introduced during the Boer War, to distinguish colonels and generals, when everyone was camouflaged in khaki uniforms,.
Red, relatively unobtrusive gorget tabs on lapels - so far-away Boer snipers couldn't pick out the officers for special attention - were introduced during the Boer War, to distinguish colonels and generals, when everyone was camouflaged in khaki uniforms,. So the gorget tabs, far from detracting from our claim, enhances it significantly instead. More accurate research would probably have prevented Michael Therrien's confusion...

Faces Aged by War: Agar Adamson (1865-1929), who had been on the Front Line, in Belgium, as a Captain with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, had been seriously wounded in the Battle of Bellewaerde Ridge in May 1915, when over 80% of the regiment became casualties. He spent five months, in the summer of 1915, recovering in England.

The man standing beside Agar could very well be Col. Hamilton Gault (1882-1958), below in uniform before he saw war up close, the founder - through his close friendship with the Duke of Connaught - of the PPCLI, and who, in fact, had hired Agar as a Captain for the unit. Gault was also wounded at the same time as Agar. Are these two ravaged faces in recovery together? Do the two recovering officers explain why the nurses are there? Is it a match?

Mabel, and their son Anthony, stayed with Agar during his recuperation. It also explains why the assertive Mabel stands close, and in front of her husband.

Right, nine-year-old Anthony with his father, during that summer.

Anthony Adamson grew up to become a noted architect, contributing greatly to the restoration of Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, ON, and Upper Canada Village, in eastern Ontario, probably Canada's premiere pioneer village assembly of historic buildings. He became a Professor at the University of Toronto, a Reeve for what is today Mississauga, Chairman of the Ontario Arts Council, and a Member of the Order of Canada. He would live to a ripe old age, passing on at 96, on May 3, 2002.


Update: We are pleased to publish an alternative time frame for this photograph, suggested by researcher Michael Therrien - he is doing the laborious work of transcribing the PPCLI diaries - who proposed a later date for the photo, which still allows for all the principals to be assembled for a picture opportunity that fits our original above scenario.

The principals, above, were all, indeed, amazingly, in England during the summer period of 1915 - our original suggested time frame. We had surmised that the Duke's mourning armband was being worn in honour of the PPCLI commanding officer - a personal friend and a former member of his staff - who had been killed in battle while leading the regiment, just a few weeks before.

Michael Therrien suggests an alternate time frame might be the summer of 1917, when all the principals above, again were in England - Gault (below, unmarked by war, in an early photo) just recovering from more wounds (which could also explain his close positioning behind his nursing caregivers), prior to rejoining his regiment, and Agar who was there to be invested with the DSO, for his battlefield services.

This later date would explain, even more forcefully, the photo images of the haggard faces of these two long time survivors of terror in the trenches. In fact, within a few months, Agar was to be in such bad shape, mentally, he was withdrawn from the Front, so ending an astonishing almost four year stint on the battlefield. He was marked for life, as his shell-shocked eyes top, attest; and his marriage fell apart shortly after the war.

In 1917, of course, the Duke was no longer Governor-General of Canada, but his tie to the PPCLI, through his daughter, was closer than ever. She would be formally inducted as Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment barely a year later. And lends powerful support to her being at a private meeting with its principal officers and her father top.

The mourning armband for the Duke - he wore them numerous times for different notables - would in this case, not be for Col. Farquhar, as proposed in the original time frame, but for his wife - Princess Patricia's mother - who had died July 17, 1918 of influenza.

Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry - PPCLI

When World War I broke out, influential Canadians wanted to help Britain with the war in Europe. Montreal multimillionaire Hamilton Gault convinced the Duke of Connaught to approve the creation of a Canadian volunteer unit which Gault would finance privately. Knowing how to grease the wheels, Gault asked the Duke's permission to name the new regiment after his daughter, Princess Patricia. He was delighted and it became Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, over 1,000 strong.

(Is the mystery man, left, a war-ravaged match for Gault right and above?)

Gault was forbidden from raiding the Canadian Militia for recruits but in eight days had a full complement of men, with thousands more, turned away. Most volunteers were former British regulars now living in Canada; many too, had fought in the Boer War. Gault waived considerations of age, in favour of experience, which allowed Agar, who was 49, to find a position in the unit.

The PPCLI embarked - along with 30,000 members of Canada's First Division - for Europe on September 27, 1914. Of the original 1,098 men in the regiment over 350 would perish in France; over half the 29 original officers would die as well, including three commanding officers.

And Agar was a witness when most of them died... The horrors he saw were transforming his face into a haggard mask top, from the carefree look he had, below, when suited up, in Canada, before going overseas to take part in the Great War. When others were killed, Agar rose to become Major, then Lt. Colonel commanding the regiment. He led the PPCLI during its finest hour, at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in April, 1917.

The Mysterious Fourth Man....

In 1914, Hamilton Gault needed a commander for the PPCLI, and made a special request of the Duke for the services of one of his Governor-General's own British staff officers, Lt. Col. Francis Farquhar DSO, of the Coldstream Guards (below right) to become Commanding Officer of the unit. There is a resemblance to the mystery man... But sadly, Farquhar had died of wounds on Mar. 21, 1915... So no match...

Who, then, is the fourth male in the picture below left? Where does he fit into the PPCLI story? Is he one of the other regimental officers wounded with Agar and Gault in May, 1915? Or a staff officer attached to the Duke?

The Final Mystery???

Could the mystery woman on the far right top, and below centre, be the Duke of Connaught's own daughter, Princess Patricia, joining her father to attend a rare gathering of the leading officers of the PPCLI, of which she was de facto Colonel-in-Chief? (Five contemporary views of Princess Patricia of Connaught, surround her.) Is it a match? Circumstantial evidence of the above photo aside, her physical resemblance, those hooded, doey eyes, and the highly distinctive notch in her forehead coiffure seems a strong deciding factor.

Is then, our photo, the rarest, and finest image, of a historic grouping of PPCLI founding notables in existence?

Update: There is every reason - in addition to her resemblance to her known photos - to believe that Princess Patricia - the Duke of Connaught's own daughter - is the mystery woman in the picture top. Long before she was officially inducted as Colonel-in-Chief of the PPCLI, in 1918, she was the darling of the Regiment, and her life inextricably intertwined with the destiny of "Her" regiment and the fate of its leading officers.

The Regiment - Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry - had been named in her honour, in 1914, after the Duke had granted his consent. The Princess had further agreed to have her personal cypher used on the regimental flag. She in fact sewed it on with her own hand! And in a huge public spectacle at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, on Aug. 23, 1914, she had personally presented these home-sewn Colours to Col. Farquhar and the Regiment, saying:

"I have great pleasure in presenting you with these Colours which I have worked myself; I hope they will be associated with what I believe will be a distinguished corps; I shall follow the fortunes of you all with the deepest interest, and I heartily wish every man good luck and a safe return."

It would be strange, indeed, if she did not attend this informal gathering of the principals of this elite Canadian regiment, in a private meeting with her father.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Commemorative Tray, The Duke & Duchess of Connaught c 1911
Orig. tin - Size - 34 x 41 cm
Found - Barrie, ON
A wonderfully large, tin tray featuring the Duke and Duchess - the parents of Princess Patricia - in happier times, during their time in Canada, when the Duke was Governor-General from 1911-1916.

The War to End All Wars: When World War I started, in 1914, Mabel Adamson (1869-1943) moved to England, to be nearer to Agar who was fighting in France, and was to remain there for the duration of the War. Agar was one of the extremely fortunate officers who served on the Front almost the entire time and managed to survive, physically, if not entirely mentally.

Belgian Canal Boat Fund: In 1914, only a tiny corner of Belgium remained in Allied hands. Over 10,000 Belgian families lived there as refugees. In December, Mabel, and Kathryn Innis-Taylor, a fellow Torontonian living in London, founded the Belgian Canal Boat Fund, a Canadian initiative to bring relief to these distressed war refugees, by floating medicine, food and clothing down the canals to where they were trapped behind the Allied firing lines. We believe that if the mystery woman is not Princess Patricia, Kathryn is the woman standing beside Mabel above.

To give the Fund a higher profile, and wring donations from passers-by, Mabel commissioned London-based, John Hassall (1868-1948), a well-known graphic artist, to design this striking poster right. For the next four years this pathetic image, of a mother crouching in despair over her starving children, would stare accusingly down on the millions of patrons of the London, England tube/subway/underground. The poster read:

Belgian Canal Boat Fund
For Relief of the Civil Population Behind the Firing Lines
Send Them Something

Home From the Wars: After the war, Agar and Mabel returned to Canada, to Port Credit, a suburb of Mississauga, west of Toronto, where her family, the Cawthras, had owned property since 1809. There, using Cawthra money, she built a large house for Agar, to try to bring him back to mental health after the four years of horror he had been through.

What that had been like, she could never possibly know, or understand. They drifted apart, and Agar returned to England to try to pack as much living in the few years left to him.

Abandoned to raise her children alone, Mabel hoped Agar would just grow tired of the endless partying and socializing that were zapping his worn-out body even further. But Agar was a popular after dinner raconteur and had a DSO, second only to the Victoria Cross, to prove he had been at the centre of the action, in both the Boer War and the Great War.

Then, on a flying adventure with a pilot friend, in October 1929, his plane ditched into the frigid Irish Sea. Agar was rescued, but three hours in the cold water had drastically worn down his body's defences. Mabel and Anthony, now 23, came from Canada to help him recuperate once more.

They were by his side when he died in November. Agar was cremated and brought back to Port Credit for burial. Mabel survived him, in the big house, till 1943. Anthony lived in it till 1976, when it became public property.

Today their large estate is owned by the City of Mississauga; the grounds, on the shore of Lake Ontario echo to the gay laughter of numerous newlyweds, who romp through Agar and Mabel's old haunts, to have their wedding portraits taken. All the rooms in the big house have been converted for conservatory music students to practice their instruments. String quartette music and piano concerts now waft over the grounds.

Left, the Coach House that was Agar and Mabel's haunt before and after his Boer War service in 1900.

Agar had brought back a huge trophy flag left that deposed Boer President Paul Kruger had once flown over his headquarters.

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Right, the view from the Coach House, of the home that Mabel built for Agar and herself, on their return from the wars in Europe in 1919.

But mostly, after Agar left again for Europe in 1921, she lived in it alone, hoping he would soon return, after he grew tired of the endless partying. Instead, God grew tired of Agar.

Mabel Adamson, was a remarkable Canadian, and a most loyal wife and partner. She always gave it her very best... hoping that her love story would have a happy ending...

Mabel's family connections had gotten Agar an officer's position so he could go to fight in South Africa.

Her social pull got him an officer's position in the PPCLI in World War I.

Her money built the huge house for him to live in after the war.

And always, her family money paid for Agar's expenses, and in the final years, picked up the tab for many of his partying costs, even after he had left her in Port Credit to go to Europe on his own.

In war, and in peace, when Agar's adventures had left him alone, and at death's door, she was always there to comfort him.

She was someone, he knew, who would always come through for him...

But, for some men, all that is just not good enough...