Kirkland’s World War I
By Irene Vlitos-Rowe
It was 1918—the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.The Great War, which had begun in August 1914, had finally come to an end.This “war to end all wars” had dragged on relentlessly and, by the time the US entered the conflict in April 1917, it had already accounted for millions of lives.
This was carnage on an unprecedented scale.The US War Department estimated that about 8 million people (including Allies and Central Powers) were killed during the war, and another 21 million wounded. Although sources vary on exact numbers, it is estimated that over 67,000 people from Washington State enlisted in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. A total of 1,642 lost their lives, with King County accounting for 460 deaths.
This distant war had a major impact on small communities across America, and Kirkland was no exception.
The Home Front
If a review of the East Side Journal’s 1918 issues is anything to go by, Kirkland was a hotbed of unbridled patriotism. This was a time of Liberty Loan (government bond) drives, support for our boys in the trenches, and sacrifice—from eating potatoes, which were “the best kind of local, home grown patriotism” to smoking out slackers who failed to do their duty.
Women were urged to join the Red Cross, and knitting groups were all the rage in Rose Hill, Houghton and Capitol Hill. This was not the time for women to support those “unwise enthusiasts,” or suffragettes, whose demonstrations in support of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution were considered inappropriate at time of war.
East Siders were warned of an auto famine, or even the possibility of having to revert to horseback for transportation, because the Ford auto plant was now exclusively devoted to war work. The only exception was the Fordson tractor, which was still being delivered because it was needed to raise the nation’s food supply.
The Human Sacrifice
On September 12, 1918 the number of war service registrants far exceeded expectations, with 192 people registering in Kirkland and 143 in the Rose Hill precinct. This initial registration was so successful that Kirkland ran out of registration cards and had to call Seattle for more, where there was also a shortage.
But what these figures do not tell us is that a number of Kirkland men had already volunteered with the Canadian forces at the beginning of the war. Claude Hanks, Ed McEvers, and D.E. Lee had joined as musicians and performed non-combatant duties until Uncle Sam officially entered the war. After that date, they became combatants.
Ed McEvers, who became a stretcher bearer attending the wounded in battle, was the first Kirkland man to be killed in action on July 23, 1918. Described as “one of the best known young men on the East Side, and one of the best liked,” his death took a toll on our local community. Although McEvers applied for a transfer to his own flag, this did not materialize before his untimely death.
War is Good Business
The outbreak of World War I, and the subsequent entry of the US, coincided with some of the more profitable periods for Kirkland’s local industries. Its woolen mill produced wool products for the US military and, although it continued to prosper for a while after the war, the mill was eventually closed in February 1927.
In September 1918, the French government ordered two ships (the Osprey and Oleander) from the Oriental Navigation Company. As both vessels had been built by Kirkland’s Anderson Shipbuilding Company, and were the first to be built on Lake Washington in the service of our allies, this was a moment of great pride for the community. The order meant more East Side jobs, a larger population, and greater prosperity.
This snapshot of Kirkland’s contribution to the war effort marks the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I on November 11—a date now known as Veterans Day.
Launch of the Osprey, Anderson Shipyards in Kirkland, July 3, 1918
Charlene Burnell Avery Collection.
Sources: Kirkland Heritage Society; East Side Journal; History of King County Washington, Clarence B. Bagley, Vol. I; A History of The State of Washington, Spencer & Pollard, Vol. I; www.historylink.org; MOHAI.
A version of this article appeared in the Kirkland Reporter on November 5, 2008.
©2008 - Irene Vlitos-Rowe