There have been over 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. One hundred years ago, our country had been at war for eight months (Congress declared war on Germany April 6, 1917) 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. The Leader’s daily edition of December 20th reported that no sooner had a contractor announced that his crew had completed a 32-building construction project than 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 reporting 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 that “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 November 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 December 24th edition reported a record breaking number of discharges for the day releasing almost five hundred boys 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 Christmas’ of 1917 and 1918 for the troops could not have been more different. One was a celebration muted by the foreboding road ahead and the other 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 hundred years later, the holiday season celebrations continue at the fort in the peaceful surroundings of the park.