There are undoubtedly many accounts of Christmas in the army, and many better than the one I’m about to serve up. I’m even sneaking in someone who is not a Kansan.

That would be my great-uncle, Homer S. “Jack” Shaffer (1893-1973), who with few exceptions like World War I, spent his life in the coal mining community of Vintondale, Pennsylvania.  Jack served in the Medical Detachment of the 305th Engineers, 80th Division–the Blue Ridge Division, with its motto, “Vis Montium”–“Strength of the Mountains.”

Jack was certainly a regular letter writer, although perhaps not always thick with details. But he seems to have gotten the basics included in his letters. And two of them show what a difference a year makes.

Writing to his mother and siblings from Camp Lee, Virginia, on December 29, 1917, he included the following details about his Christmas:

“We certainly had some dinner of Xmas as we had the following Turkey, Cranberry sauce, Mashed potatoes and gravy, Oyster dressing, Oyster soup, Olives, Celery, Pickles, Nuts, Hot biscuits, Slice Pine-apple, Pumpkin, Mince, and Apple Pie, Oranges, Bananas, Corn and three kinds of cigars.

We are also having turkey for New Years.”

He did have a chance to either build up an appetite or work some of this bounty off.  “I spent Xmas day the best I could under the condition (sic).  We were out on the drill field in the afternoon and seen a few games and races.”

Christmas gifts?  “I received a fine comfort kit from a Mr. Bryan from Pittsburgh that is all I received so far.”

“I received the box of cakes from Ella but she need not send any more as when they get here if they are not in an iron box they are all smashed up.”

A year later he was in France as a part of an army of occupation after the Armistice.  He wrote on December 29, 1918 that “Part of our Division was reviewed by President Wilson on Xmas.”  Sounds like he was not a part of that part of the Division.

There’s a question as to whether the Christmas meal was as sumptuous as the meal in Camp Lee the year before:  “We had a pretty good dinner on Xmas but no turkey or chickens as some had.”

And there is a question of what he received for Christmas:  “We haven’t received any first class mail for nearly a week.  I guess it is on account of so  much Xmas mail.”

The next Christmas, he would be back in Vintondale, taking his place in the community.

Blair Tarr is the Museum Curator of the Kansas State Historical Society. He oversees the three-dimensional collections of the Society, but has special interests in the Civil War, Wichita-made Valentine diners, and Leavenworth's Abernathy Furniture. In the last few years he has also done a lot of cramming on The Great War. He is a past president of the Kansas Museums Association and the Civil War Round Tables of both Kansas City and Eastern Kansas. He is currently a board member of the Heritage League of Greater Kansas City.