Canada and the United States during Wartime

By: David Suatac

Even though the United States remained neutral for the majority of the First World War, many Americans fought in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Early in the war, the Canadian government authorized a battalion of American citizens living in Toronto who were later joined by similar battalions from Vancouver, Winnipeg and New Brunswick. These battalions, collectively known as the American Legion, were broken up once overseas and used to reinforce existing undermanned units. Americans living in the United States crossed the border and enlisted in Canadian units individually or in small groups.

A First World War recruitment poster encouraging British and Canadian citizens living in the U.S. to enlist during a British Canadian Recruiting Mission in Indianapolis. Credit: Library and Archives Canada /

Once the United States joined the war in 1917, the number of Americans in the Canadian Expeditionary Force began to dwindle. In response, the Canadian government wasted no time in recruiting British subjects residing in the United States, an act previously illegal under American neutrality laws. The British Canadian Recruiting Mission, as the scheme was called, signed more than 33,000 volunteers over its existence while liberally interpreting the meaning of “British” subject. Almost every battalion recruited during the Great War featured several American soldiers. In fact, it is estimated that over 40,000 Americans joined – roughly ten percent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

While many Americans joined the Canadian Army during the First World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was undoubtedly the most popular of choices for Americans enlisting north of the border during the Second World War. Over 9,000 Americans joined the RCAF, most before the United States officially joined the war in Pearl Harbour’s wake. Many joined through the semi-secret Clayton Knight Committee, the brainchild of an American who had served with the Royal Flying Corps and Billy Bishop, Canada’s First World War ace and Director of Recruiting during the Second World War. The committee, through its offices in places like New York, Dallas, Spokane and Atlanta, facilitated the enlistment of Americans into the RCAF in violation of the country’s neutrality laws. Over the course of the war, Americans in the RCAF served in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. An estimated 234 Americans were decorated for bravery; 800 paid the ultimate sacrifice.


1. Jonathan Vance. “American Recruits in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.” 2014.

2. Hugh Halliday. “Canada’s Yanks: Air Force, Part 16.” Legion Magazine, July 2006. 

3. “The Canadian Great War Soldier.” The Canadian Encyclopedia.

4. Chris Dickon. Americans at War in Foreign Forces: A History, 1914-1945. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2014.

Featured Image: Credit: Wikimedia / 

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