In October 1916, Prime Minister Robert Borden created the Ministry of Overseas Military Forces of Canada; the OMFC. Sir George Perley, Canada’s High Commissioner in London was appointed Minister. His mandate was to reorganize the CEF and clean up the mess made by Sam Hughes and his representative Major General Carson. Sam Hughes promptly resigned his post in protest. He was replaced by Albert Edward Kemp.
Perley created a Headquarters in London and appointed 2nd Division Commander Major General R.E.W. Turner as Commander of Canadian Forces in England. Under Turner’s command the OMFC reorganized training and reinforcements, making a much more effective system.
Throughout the war, men from battalions recruited from across Canada had reinforced the 60th. Military Districts did not like the idea that battalions raised by them were being broken up as reinforcements for units from other districts.
Turner considered it unfair and wanted to return to the initial system whereby a battalion at the front would be reinforced by men from the district from which that battalion was initially raised. He set up a system of Reserve Battalions to be supplied with men by specific Military Districts in Canada. The Reserve Battalion would then reinforce battalions raised in the same military district.
The battalions at the front had not been chosen with proportional representation in mind, as a result, Quebec and British Columbia were over represented at the front, and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and in particular Ontario, were under represented.
By 1917, recruiting in Quebec was at a low and finding replacements for the English-speaking battalions from Montreal had become acute. Therefore, it was decided to reduce the number of battalions from Quebec, specifically Military District 4 – English speaking Montreal.
There were five battalions considered for replacement; the 14th, 24th, 60th, 73rd and 87th . The 14th was part of the 1st Division, the 24th was in the 2nd, the 60th in the 3rd and both of the most junior battalions the 73rd and 87th were in the 4th division. The logical choice would be the two junior battalion however taking two seasoned battalions from one Division was not a wise choice either.
Both the 60th and the 73rd were the junior battalions of their respective Regiments. The 24th Battalion was the senior Montreal Battalion of the Victoria Rifles of Canada, and the 13th and 42nd were senior Montreal raised, Royal Highlander Battalions to the 73rd. Coupled with the fact that they were not in the same Division they seemed the logical choices. By the end of January 1917 it was decided it would in fact be the 60th and 73rd that would go, and it was planned to take place after the after the battle for Vimy Ridge and the expected heavy casualties.
Men from the 73rd went to the other two Highland Battalions, while the men of the 60th went to other English speaking, Quebec raised battalions: the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles and the 87th Battalion Canadian Grenadier Guards.
In addition to the logic of the 60th and 73rd was the unknown factor of General Meighen and 87th Battalion. The Grenadier Guards were the junior Montreal battalion at the front, but they were the British Empires oldest Volunteer Militia unit and since the outbreak of the war had supplied men to other Montreal battalions and along with the Victoria Rifles of Canada, formed the nucleus of the 14th Battalion; The Royal Montreal Regiment. They contributed men to the 13th Royal Highlanders and both the Victoria Rifles Battalions, the 24th and 60th. The Commanding Officer of the 14th Battalion was a Guardsman, Lt. Col. F. S. Meighen. He had returned to Canada in 1915 and was authorized to raise a Grenadier Guard Battalion to be designated the 87th Overseas Battalion “The Grenadier Guards of Canada”. He was also very resentful of the fact that the 60th Battalion had added the sub title “Victoria Rifles of Canada” to its name. When the controversy broke in early 1916, he had vowed to get his revenge on Lt. Col. Gascoigne, and undoubtedly, he brought all the influence he could, to make sure he kept the junior 87th in the field. He argued that the 87th Battalion was unique, and recruiting had occurred not only in Montreal but also in every province of Canada making it a thoroughly representative “Canadian” unit, even though over fifty percent of the recruits were from Montreal and it was authorized in the 4th Military District. The policy had been not to send CEF battalions overseas with their Militia titles, but the Canadian Grenadier Guards received special authority from His Excellency the Governor-General, HRH the Duke of Connaught. He also authorized the wearing of Grenadier Guards’ badges.
In August of 1916, Victor Cavandish, the 9th Duke of Devonshire, replaced the Duke of Connaught as Governor General. He became the Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Grenadier Guards in November 1916. General Meighen made sure the 87th had influential friends.
When the decision was made to keep the junior 87th Battalion and disband the 60th, it could be argued that the 87th was a “Canadian” Battalion and not a Quebec unit, and it was the only Grenadier Guards unit at the front. General Meighen made a strong case that would not make any politicians look bad. There is no doubt he also mentioned the Victoria Rifles had two battalions at the front. General Meighen’s had followed through with his threat of January 1916 “……that the matter will not be allowed to rest where it is. It will be taken up with the proper authorities at the proper time.” The title “Victoria Rifles of Canada” had come back to bite the 60th battalion, General Meighen had his revenge.
There were four Canadian Corps battalions disbanded in April and May of 1917. The 3rd Pioneer Battalion from British Columbia, which started out as the 48th Battalion but changed its designation from infantry to a pioneer battalion to avoid being broken up in England, was replaced by the 123rd Pioneers from Ontario, and the 5th Pioneer Battalion from Montreal was replaced by the 124th Pioneers, also from Ontario. The 116th Ontario County Battalion, from Uxbridge Ontario, replaced the 60th, and the 85th Nova Scotia Highlanders from Halifax replaced the 73rd.