For the Red Cross, December of 1917 was an active season in North Dakota. With loved ones ever closer to the front, there was an urgency to ensure that the boys had the comforts of home as much as possible. Red Cross knitting parties were held across the state. In a three week campaign, over two hundred sweaters were knitted in Eddy County so every soldier from that county would have a warm garment.
Nationwide, the Red Cross was seeking ten million new members in the week prior to Christmas. They asked each household to place a candle in the window behind a piece of transparent paper containing a blue border with a large Red Cross sign in the center. This was to be done at 7:30 on Christmas Eve as a symbol of support for the troops. Church bells would toll every half hour during the evening.
Banking on the spirit of the season, the War Commission was asking Americans to purchase War Saving certificates. The money raised would help buy munitions to hasten the war’s end, saving the lives of many American boys, enabling them to spend future Christmases with their families.
Christmas, like Thanksgiving, would require some creative planning and sacrifice. Meatless mincemeat was recommended by the Food Commission to accompany the “pumpkinless” pumpkin pie and the “gingerless” gingerbread. The directions were simple. Chop half of a package of raisins with a half-pound of prunes and stew in the juice and peel of a lemon; then add a quarter cup of sweet cider and four tablespoons of brown sugar.
Christmas found the North Dakota troops one step closer to the front. Capable of carrying over eight thousand soldiers comfortably, the SS Leviathan, serving as a troop ship, arrived safely in England on Christmas Eve. Even though the accommodations aboard ship were very comfortable, the threat of submarines in the North Atlantic had kept the men awake and vigilant. Many slept in their uniforms with their boots on. A scrumptious Christmas dinner with all the trimmings was served aboard ship, prior to their arrival.
The movement of troops and supplies was a closely guarded secret, so it was not until Christmas Day that the people back home would learn that the North Dakota contingent was on foreign soil. With their loved ones within hours of the front, the Christmas wish of 1917 was for a quick end to the war and their safe return.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
Weekly Time-Record, January 24, 1918
Ward County Independent, January 24, 1918
The Bismarck Tribune, December 22, 1917