The son of James B. Smith, James Robert Smith emigrated to Canada in 1910. He returned to Britain to join the Royal Flying Corps. Posted to 18 Squadron, he scored 5 victories as an F.E.2b observer before being wounded in the stomach on 11 April 1917. After recovering from his wounds, he served with 33 and 51 Squadrons in 1918, received Competitor's Certificate 7767 on 25 February 1918, and injured his left eye on 6 August 1918. Before returning to Canada at the end of 1919, Smith also served with 78 Squadron.