Break up of the Battalion

There are two theories generally used to explain why the 60th was disbanded. The first was because of the high casualties the battalion suffered. Indeed they did suffer high casualties, but no different than other Infantry Battalions. High casualties among the Canadian Corps was a factor but not the reason.

The second is the “Conspiracy” Theory. The Conspiracy Theory blames politics on the breakup. There is some validity to this theory. Canadian provinces did not like the idea that battalions raised by them were sent to England and broken up to reinforce battalions raised in other provinces and demanded equal representation at the front. This was the political component of the Conspiracy. The other part of the conspiracy theory was that Lt Colonel Gascoigne created some powerful enemies when he went behind his superiors backs to have the 60th Battalion given the title “Victoria Rifles of Canada”. One of the most influential was the former Commanding Officer of the 14th Battalion, Lt. Col. Frank Steven Meighen. He had returned to Canada in 1915 and was authorized to raise a Grenadier Guards Battalion to be designated the 87th Overseas Battalion “The Grenadier Guards of Canada”.  Meighen would go to England with the 87th where he was promoted to Brigadier General and Commander of the Canadian Training Depot at Bramshott. In August of 1916 he was attached to the Acting Military Sub Council, established by Minister of Militia Sam Hughes, he would be  working with Hughes’ representatives; Lord Beaverbrook ( Max Aitkin) and General John Wallace Carson a former commander of Military District 4 and a former Commanding Officer of the 1st Regiment Grenadier Guards of Canada

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.  Meighen was 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 Grenadiers 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.

The Governor General was the Commander in Chief of the Canadian Military. 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. It is very possible and most likely that General Meighen played a major role in the selection of the 60th Battalion over others.

The real reason the 60th Battalion was broken up.

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 representatives; Max Aitken and  Major General Carson. Sam Hughes was asked to resign by Prime Minister Robert Borden and 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 and provinces did not like the idea that battalions raised by them were being broken up as reinforcements for units from other districts and provinces.

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 at the front with men recruited 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. (this is partly responsible for the high casualty theory for t he battalion being disbanded)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 replacing the two junior battalions 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 (The Black Watch) 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. (Both of which suffered very high casualties during the battle for Vimy Ridge) However, the entire transport section of the 60th Battalion including all the trucks, carts and horses were sent to the 116th Battalion, raised in Ontario. The 116th would replace the 60th in the 9th Brigade. They had arrived in France without a complete Transport Section.

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.

The vast majority of C.E.F. battalions were broken up in England for reinforcements and all the break ups were opposed by their commanders and by the provinces and Military Districts in which they were recruited, but the break-up of these four front line battalions was particularly hard to accept. They were not in England training; they were on the frontline and had been for over a year. It upset the Province of Quebec, the City of Montreal, and had a further detrimental effect on recruiting in Quebec. Other jurisdictions panicked when they realized this could happen to them. Militarily, it made no sense to replace experienced battle hardened troops with new, untested ones, and in fact, Brigade and Divisional commanders were opposed for that reason. When he heard the news that the 73rd was going to be broken up, 12th Brigade commander, Brigadier General MacBrien suggested that they simply reassign reinforcement from another area and keep the 73rd intact. The reality was, all of these battalions had been reinforced by men from across the country anyway, and men from the original recruiting area were no longer in the majority. The 60th already had over three hundred men from the 75th Battalion, which was raised in Ontario, and the 3rd Pioneer Battalion reported that fifty five percent of its men were already from Ontario. The uproar was so strong that, for the rest of the war, battalions that found themselves with the same lack of reserves were simply re-designated, rather than disbanded, as suggested by MacBrien. The 44th Manitoba became the 44th New Brunswick, the 54th Kootenay became the 54th Central Ontario, and the 47th British Columbia became the 47th Western Ontario.

For the soldier at the front, they stayed with their brothers in arms. Brothers who had been through so much together and with whom they had developed bonds that only those who had been there could truly appreciate. For the Canadian Corps, it kept experienced fighting units together, and reduced the political pressure from Canada.

On Sunday, April 29, 1917, right after church, the battalion assembled on the parade grounds at Villier au Bois, to hear a farewell address from Lt. Col. Gascoigne.

842176 Len Willans, a private in No 9 Platoon of C Company, described the colonel as speaking with a “slight French accent and almost in tears”.

Letter from Canadian Corps regarding breakup

Note the annotations in the letter replacing the 60th and 116th Battalions with the 3rd and 123rd Pioneer Battalions. The Army used the exact same letter just changed the details.

Farewell Address Pg 1

Farewell Address Pg 2

Letter from Byng

Major General Julien Byng’s farewell letter to the 60th Battalion is the exact same letter sent to the 73rd Battalion

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