Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, August 14, 2014

35,000 Yanks Served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Canadian Recruiting Poster Targeting Americans

The United States didn’t enter the war until 6 April 1917. But many American soldiers joined the fight long before that. Nearly 800 of the soldiers who sailed with Canada’s First Contingent in October 1914 were born in the U.S. By war’s end, more than 35,000 Americans had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Those numbers include both U.S. citizens living in Canada and Americans who crossed the border to join the fight — many of them motivated by the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915. 

American law prohibited any recruiting for foreign armies on its soil, but it was understood that Americans who pledged loyalty to the king in order to enlist would not be stripped of their U.S. citizenship after they finished their service.

Bellenden Hutcheson, MD, of Mount Carmel, Illinois,
Was One of Four American Recipients of the Victoria Cross for Service with the CEF

In late 1915, Canadian Militia Minister Sam Hughes announced that a battalion of American soldiers would be raised in Toronto. The 97th Battalion, often called the American Legion, had as its emblem a maple leaf with the Washington family crest in the center. The soldiers drew great interest from the local media as they started arriving at Exhibition Camp.

“If you speak to the khaki sentry on the Process building door, while he stands at the very smartest British attention, he speaks with the slow, deliberate Yankee drawl,” a Toronto Star reporter wrote in January 1916. “Yankee? That’s it. There is no offence in the word.”

Among its recruits were said to be “broncho busters from Dakoty, gold panners from the Klondike,” and veterans from both sides of the U.S.-Mexican wars.

One soldier, 25-year-old Tracy Richardson, listed previous service with the Mexican, Nicaraguan, Honduran, and Brazilian artilleries on his attestation form and was said to have 24 scars. He came to Canada when war broke out “to become a private in the Princess Pats, had his legs smashed by bullets at St. Eloi just when he was starting to enjoy himself, and now he is going to it again with the Yankees.”

Volunteers of Canada's American Legion in Training

The 97th Battalion reached its full strength of 1,400 men by March 1916 but didn’t ship out until August — and in the months in between, the restless soldiers became known for getting into trouble in Toronto. When the battalion arrived in Europe, it was broken up, its men sent to other units as reinforcements.

Canada announced in February 1916 that it would be adding four more battalions to the American Legion, but that proved too much for the U.S. government, which was trying to maintain its neutrality in the war. It filed a protest and three of the four battalions disappeared by November, with the fourth disbanding in March 1917. 

— Stephanie MacLellan

Source:  The Toronto Star World War I Encyclopedia

Assistant Editor's Note: My favorite American who got to the Western Front by way of the CEF is Capt. Frederick Libby, an ace of the RFC decorated by the King. His memoir, Horses Don't Fly (Arcade Publishing, 2000), is an engaging and informative narrative by a rugged westerner who became a "temporary gentleman" and loved it. ~ Kimball Worcester


  1. Another extraordinary American who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force was David E. Wheeler. A doctor trained at Columbia University, he went to France with the Red Cross in 1914. He then enlisted in the Foreign Legion in Feb.1915 and served until wounded in September. Discharged from the Legion, he returned home and went over the border to join the Canadian Army and returned to France in 1916. In April 1917 he requested transfer to the US Army and was sent to the 16th Infantry, 1st Division. He died of wounds on July 18, 1918 and is buried at Aisne-Marne Cemetery, Plot B Row 4 Grave 15.

  2. The movie Legends of the Fall highlighted Americans serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force

  3. This is a subject that I have researched for my own interest forming many databases, some with photographs of a soldier, these tend to be rare.
    There is Cross of Sacrifice that can be seen in Arlington National cemetery to those Americans who gave their lives in the Great War, the 2nd WW and Korea is also remembered.

  4. My great uncle was somehow involved in this war with CEF forces. Family members understood he had been gassed in France during trench warfare. No records exist, but a newspaper article lists him as stationed with Coastal Defense forces in 1914 at Fort Totten in NY. His obituary in 1943 indicates he enlisted with CEF in 1914, then spent the next 5 years in France, 4 in battle, then a year with Canadian Occupation forces. Family stories of gas effects seem to correspond with the lung issues he had which ultimately caused a fall and his death. We wonder if he served under an assumed name since we have found no records. I'm hoping someone on this site might have some guidance on our search. Than you.