The Mercenary

Lieutenant Colonel Wade L. Jolly
97th (American Legion) BattalionJolly

I am an American though having sworn allegiance to His Majesty King George, and I most respectfully submit that the treatment I have received since I have been in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in England has been a burning disgrace.

(Court martial of Lt. Col. Jolly, 23 Aug 1917)

Born on 18 January 1878 in Iowa, Wade Lytton Jolly was an American soldier, adventurer and businessman. At the age of 19, he enlisted to fight in the Spanish-American War. In 1899, he joined the United States Marine Corps. Serving for fourteen years, he saw action in many overseas military campaigns including China and Panama. During the Boxer Rebellion, Jolly distinguished himself in several acts of “conspicuous gallantry.” His superior, Major Littleton Walker, enthused, “The reports of Mr. Jolly’s conduct are most flattering and they come in from all sides. This is the second time I have had occasion to make special mention of this young officer during the week.”

After being dismissed from the Marines for AWOL and non-payment of debts in January 1913, Jolly pursued business interests through skyscraper construction in Philadelphia. At the outbreak of the European War in August 1914, he travelled to Toronto and volunteered in the Canadian Expeditionary Force for another military adventure. In January 1916, Jolly was selected to command the 97th Battalion, a unit composed of American citizen volunteers. Originally conceived by Reverend C. Seymour Bullock, the 97th formed the American Legion in the CEF.

JollyIn addition to problems with recruitment, training and desertion, competition between Jolly and Bullock further frustrated the 97th organization. Due in part to its mercenary composition as well as possible anti-American bias, the Toronto police chief considered the Legion, “the worst behaved battalion.” At a rally in Toronto on 20 February 1916, Jolly asserted American men had crossed the border to fight for Canada “in order that a principle may survive.” With the motto “For God and Justice,” the 97th Battalion departed for overseas in September 1916.

Upon arriving in England not only was the unit broken up and its troops dispersed, but the commander also became a victim of scandal and controversy. Accused of embezzling battalion funds, Jolly was tried by general court martial and sentenced to be cashiered. He later joined the American Expeditionary Force and went to France as a private. Forty years after the war, a 97th Battalion veteran, W. C. Marchant, remembered his former commander “was just too proud to return before the war was over.” After the war, Jolly was rumored to have become a “destitute waif.” Dismissing any charges of corruption, Marchant maintained, “He was the finest man and soldier of us all.”

By the late 1940s, he was working as a spokesman for the Veterans Administration. He died in 1949.


2 thoughts on “The Mercenary

  1. HI Very interesting entry concerning an American given command over a Canadian Battalion. There is only one minor issue – according to what I could find Jolly did not retire from the U.S. Marines, but rather was court-martialled and cashiered in 1913 for desertion and non-payment of debts – I guess Canada should have checked into his record before giving him a commission.

    • Thanks, Daniel. Good catch. I noticed a news report that Jolly was court-martialed after I wrote the piece but didn’t get around to making the revision. He wasn’t the first somewhat shady officer to join the CEF and he wouldn’t be the last. Still, a very interesting character.

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