|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