Christmas at the Fort

Fort Worden Recollections

Tim Caldwell
Posted 12/18/18

There have been more than a hundred Christmas celebrations at Fort Worden since its commissioning in 1902. Two that come to mind this holiday season took place in 1917 and 1918.

In 1917, our …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Christmas at the Fort

Fort Worden Recollections

Posted

There have been more than a hundred Christmas celebrations at Fort Worden since its commissioning in 1902. Two that come to mind this holiday season took place in 1917 and 1918.

In 1917, our country had been in World War I for eight months, and by late December, the fort was in the midst of a dramatic transformation from a bastion of defense for Puget Sound to an embarkation point for young recruits on their way to Europe.

Recruits were arriving at a pace beyond the post’s capacity to accommodate them. The Leader’s daily edition of Dec. 20 reported that, no sooner had a contractor announced his crew had completed a 32-building construction project at the fort, the Army offered a contract to build 42 more.

In the meantime, troops were stationed in tents on Artillery Hill behind the huge gun emplacements.

Housing wasn’t the only shortage. Two days after Christmas, 490 troops from Iowa arrived wearing “cits” (civilian clothes). The Leader reported that “owing to a scarcity of uniforms, the new arrivals looked somewhat out of place in comparison to the nattily clothed men who had been at the post for weeks or months past.”  

Cramped quarters and soldiers in civilian clothes aside, the Leader’s Christmas Eve edition reported “Christmas was fittingly observed” at the fort that day. A decorated tree was placed in front of 8th Company barracks and the 6th Army Band entertained the soldiers, officers and their families. The festivities culminated with the delivery of Red Cross packages to all the artillerymen.

The upheaval of 1917 brought significant change to Fort Worden and Christmas that year for many was likely their first away from home. As the troops celebrated, it’s also likely they thought of their ultimate destination and what the year ahead would bring. The Christmas celebration in the coming year would be like no other.

A month after the war ended with the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, Fort Worden was being overrun with troops returning from the war, all of them expecting to be home by Christmas. The Leader’s Dec. 24 edition reported a record-breaking number of discharges for the day, as almost 500 boys were released back to civilian life.

Unfortunately, many of them could not find transportation up-sound, owing to the shortage of Seattle-bound passenger ferries. No longer in the Army, the men filed into town, looking for a place to stay. For those still in the ranks at the fort, all the companies provided an elaborate dinner. The barracks were festively decorated, and the menu was a big change from regular Army fare.

The Christmases of 1917 and 1918 could not have been more different. The first was a celebration muted by the foreboding road ahead, and the second was filled with the joy of coming home.

The fort itself was changed forever.

No longer bristling with big guns, many of them removed and shipped to European battlegrounds during the war, the post was transformed into a training station.

A century later, the holiday season celebrations continue at the fort in the peaceful surroundings of the park.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment