The summer of 2017 marks 100 years since the arrival of the first American troops in France. The American Expeditionary Force landed on 26 June 1917, with 14 000 soldiers, a force which eventually grew to about 2 million. However, before the United States joined the war, there were still thousands of Americans fighting in Europe; over 40 000 of those fought with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Image: [poster] “Britishers | You’re needed |Come across now”, The British Canadian Recruiting Mission, Collections CCGW/CCGG.
The enlistment of Americans before the official entry of the US into the war involved a lot of legal wrangling, and dissimulation on the part of the American government, which was supposed to be neutral. Foreign powers were not allowed to recruit on US soil, and American citizens who served in a foreign army were supposed to be immediately stripped of their citizenship.
At the outbreak of war, British citizens living in the United States had the choice to sail back to Britain if they wanted to enlist, or to cross the border into Canada. In an agreement with the British, the American government issued permission for the British Army to recruit British citizens only in the US. The British Canadian Recruiting Mission was formed and staffed with British and Canadian officers, and its members travelling the country trying to convince the over 500 000 British citizens in the States to enlist.
The Mission was supposed to turn away American citizens, but this often didn’t happen. Still more crossed the border and enlisted directly with the CEF in cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary. The number of Americans in the CEF doesn’t include Canadians of American birth, of which there were still more who enlisted.
We’re posted stories and photographs about several American-born soldiers in our collection. George Washington Hill was born in Seattle and immigrated to Alberta as a child with his family. He was killed in 1917 at the Battle of Arleux. Capt. Ralph Richmond Layte was another American born soldier, who enlisted with the 85th Battalion in Paradise, Nova Scotia. He was awarded the Military Cross and later served with the Royal Air Force.
Another famous Canadian who was an actually American was Victoria Cross recipient Dr Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson, a resident of Mount Caramel, Illinois. Dr Hutcheson renounced his American citizenship in 1915 to serve as a doctor with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Thousands of Americans also served with the Red Cross as medical personnel, and more still joined the French Army and Air Force while living abroad.
Throughout the First World War, 2,500 Canadian nurses served abroad, 2,000 of them fully trained nurses, and 500 VAD nurses who signed up when the