In 1919, as units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force returned to Canada, the military was faced with a problem brought about by the Minister of Militia and Defence, Colonel Sam Hughes, who had ignored the existing structure of the Militia in 1914, as well as pre-existing mobilization plans drawn up in 1911, and built up the CEF from newly created units.
In January 1918, in anticipation of the war's end, the Chief of the General Staff Major General W.G. Gwatkin recommended to the new Minister of Militia, Sydney Chilton Mewburn, that a "Demobilization Committee" be appointed, to be chaired by Major General Sir William Dillon Otter. Otter had earlier submitted a draft demobilization scheme, and thought the demobilization would be an opportunity to reorganize the Active Militia along more efficient lines.
After the Armistice in November 1918, requests for perpetuation of CEF units - primarily infantry and artillery - began to inundate the Militia Department. In April 1919, the "Committee on Militia Reorganization" was appointed; this committee is usually referred to as the Otter Committee by historians.
The committee was given a mandate to "investigate and report on the absorption of units of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada into the Canadian Militia, in order to preserve their identity and traditions."
Original members of the Committee included:
In the summer of 1919, Macdonnel and Cruikshank were replaced by Major General Sir E.W.B. Morrison and General Gwatkin, respectively.
The Committee began its work by discussing submissions put forward by the CEF units themselves. Two of the members of the committee - Morrison and McNaughton - had actually drawn up a proposal for "the Incorporation of the Artillery of the Canadian Expeditionary Force into the Canadian Militia (non-permanent)" while serving overseas - McNaughton as General Officer Commanding Heavy Artillery, Canadian Corps, and Morrison as General Officer Commanding, Royal Artillery.
After the formation of the Committee, the transition from war to peace was not easy for the nation. Tens of thousands of Canadian soldiers remained overseas for months, with some going on to fight in Siberia and others deployed to Germany on occupation duty. The majority waited impatiently in the UK for repatriation. Unemployment began to rise as soldiers came home, and the demand for war industry had vanished. Canadians watched with trepidation the political instability in Europe, such as the Russian civil war, and fear of an "international Bolshevik conspiracy" grew. The world-wide influenza pandemic which arrived in North America in September 1918 would cost Canada 50,000 dead, almost as many as died in military service in the First World War. The disease petered out in 1920 having killed 25 million people, almost 16 million more than died of war-related deaths from 1914-1918.
From September 1919 to December1919, the Committee visited every Military District in Canada, and heard the views of commanding officers of both CEF units and Militia units. Those that had served overseas with the CEF had very strong desire to see their units' histories and designations perpetuated in the postwar military.
A final meeting was held on 22 December 1919, and on that date submitted an Interim Report entitled "Re-Organization of the Artillery of the Active (non-permanent) Militia." The Committee was dissolved on 29 June 1920 without producing a final report on the reorganization of the Militia as a whole.
In February 1920, a General Order authorized the formation of new artillery units and redesignation of existing ones, preserving the designations of all 85 field batteries of the CEF, and providing for an anticipated postwar army of eleven infantry divisions and four cavalry divisions. The artillery brigades into which the field batteries were grouped would also be perpetuated, as well as units of siege and heavy artillery. The committee also urged that reorganization occur before the commencement of summer training that year.
The Committee had greater obstacles in tackling other problems. It was emphasized that the Militia would have to accept veterans from overseas as qualified for rank and promotion earned in France and Flanders, even without certificates from military schools (or the political connections that were sometimes used before the war). In April 1919, the new list of Permanent Force units had been drawn up and had not included any French-speaking units. The Committee was petitioned by the City Council of Québec to make the 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion “a portion of the permanent Militia Force …stationed in the City of Québec”. The Committee agreed to perpetuate the 22nd Battalion by the creation of the Royal 22e Regiment. The petition was strongly backed by the Quebec branch of the Great War Veterans’ Association and therefore succeeded.
Other petitions, such as one by Member of Parliament Major H.M. Mowat for compulsory military service, did not. Brigadier General McNaughton calculated the cost of training all physically fit Canadian males from the ages of 18 to 25, figuring 40 days of annual training for three years with local NPAM regiments, and discounted the idea.
The largest and thorniest issue, however, was the perpetuation of the CEF's infantry battalions - some 260, with 110 prewar Militia Regiments also to be considered. The plan for for the post-war Militia would envision the 15 divisions mentioned above with 170,000 volunteers with a reserve for home defence of 300,000 men. The plan was promulgated by General Orders in 1920, but never realized, and finally quashed in 1936. It is worthy of note that a full-blown war effort in 1939-1945 only yielded five overseas divisions and three divisions for home defence.
General Macdonnell, one of the original members of the Committee and in wartime a much-loved commander of the 1st Canadian Division, was of the opinion that it would be of much less consequence to lose a dozen Militia regiments than to lose any of the CEF units. The Chief of the General Staff disagreed and, according to Stephen J. Harris in We Stand On Guard, "convinced the government that the credibility of the existing Militia must be protected."2
In the end, the CEF Battalions were disbanded, with their Battle Honours to be passed to the regiments of the Militia, which were all heavily reorganized and in almost all cases renamed. Multiple perpetuations of CEF units occurred. According to Harris:
While the cavalry and artillery thus perpetuated the names of the units that fought in France and Flanders, the infantry by and large did not.