“I Jumped the Fence to Join the Great War”- Gratiot County’s Men at War in Canada, 1916-1917


Above: Canadian Cross of Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery

Before the Sammies and Doughboys went to war in April, 1917, some Gratiot County men could not wait to get to Europe to fight in the Great War. In a few cases, these men crossed the border and served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

At least four Gratiot County men served in the CEF.  These included Robert C. Davies  and Ivan Brown from Alma, along with John Bartlett Allen and William M.Salter from Ithaca.

John Bartlett Allen was an Ithaca farmer and probably saw the most action. After arriving at Saskatoon, he became part of the 243rd CEF in August, 1916. He made it to France by December 1, 1917, several months before most Gratiot County Doughboys ever arrived on the continent. Allen served until May, 1919.

William Salter was a life insurance salesman in Ithaca and enlisted in Toronto, Ontario on May 23, 1917 in the Canadian Armed Service Corp. He was moved among camps in Canada and never made it off of the continent. Soon after Salter arrived back in Gratiot County at the end of the war his wife died, leaving him with a four month old son.

Robert Davies worked for the Republic Truck Company in Alma and joined the CEF in August, 1917. He became a service pilot for the Royal Flying Corps and returned home in January, 1919.

Ivan Brown is a little more difficult to trace. By June, 1918 he attended a training camp for engineers at St. Johns, Quebec. He wrote home and stated that he had become an engineer and expected to head immediately for France. Brown crossed over to Canada because he had been rejected three times by the American Army due to poor eyesight. The Canadians did not seem to care and they accepted him.

As many as 40,000 Americans enlisted in the CEF during the war, most giving their addresses as either being from the United States or Alaska. Over 35,000 claimed to be Americans by birth. The 97th Battalion was known for its large composition of Americans who came to serve in the CEF.  While Americans were accepted, it is estimated that 2,700 Americans died in the Great War for Canada. These men are buried in Canadian war graves in Europe and in Canada.

Coming home from the Great War may not have been that easy for these Gratiot County men. In many cases, Americans lost their citizenship and crossing back over the border could have been a problem. However, by 1920 the United States resolved the problem and Americans were readily welcomed back home.

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