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Historically Fort Bend:
1917 — World War I and Fort Bend County


A World War 1 uniform jacket and cap.

A World War 1 uniform jacket and cap.

Coaster-1917-closeup

The July 13, 1917 edition of the local paper listing the names of all Fort Bend County men who registered for the draft.

By Chris Godbold

One hundred years ago, World War I had been raging for three years of brutal trench warfare, submarine attacks and intrigue. For all of this time, the United States remained neutral, not choosing to get involved with European affairs. Blockades by both the British and the Germans had curtailed America’s ability to ship goods overseas. By early 1915, the U.S. sold war materials to the Allies and made loans to finance Allied purchases. In response, Germany attacked shipping lanes and sank ships. This continued off and on into 1916 when the Germans pledged to stop indiscriminate submarine warfare.

However, in 1917, the Germans returned to unrestricted submarine attacks. Nine American ships were sunk and an additional ship struck an Allied mine, killing 24 Americans in all. In addition, at least two foreign ships were sunk with three American lives lost. As the submarine attacks resumed, the United States received word of a telegram from Germany to its minister in Mexico requesting that they enter the war on its side should the U.S. enter the war. In exchange, Germany would help Mexico regain territory it lost in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The telegram, also called the Zimmerman note, requested additional help from the Mexican president in getting Japan involved on the German side. All totaled, these attacks on the U.S.were enough to provoke Congress to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

Fort Bend County was quick to mobilize its resources. Barbecues and drives were held to recruit for the Texas National Guard, buy Liberty Loan Bonds and War Savings Stamps and raise money for the American Red Cross. In fact, Fort Bend County bought $300,000 worth of loan bonds when its quota was only $71,700. Richmond, in particular, bought more than $100,000 of bonds to surpass its quota of $25,000. Controls were instituted on the price of ice; the transportation and marketing of the potato crop; and the sale of sugar, especially in regards to greater quantities needed for canning and preserving. For general needs, those living in urban areas could buy no more than 5 pounds of sugar and country residents could buy a maximum of 10 pounds per month.

A home guard drilled in Richmond on the high school campus every night. Home guard units were found throughout the county. The U.S. Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May, 1917 and the first registration occurred in June. The July 13, 1917 Texas Coaster listed the names of 1,964 men who registered for the draft, which started shortly thereafter. A County Draft Board examined potential draftees for any conditions, physical or otherwise, that would exempt one from service. The County had a quota of 193 men drafted.

Nonetheless, life went on in Fort Bend County. A drought caused problems for farmers and ranchers. Residents visited family out of town and hosted parties for friends and neighbors. Commerce continued and local elections were held. An air of normalcy could be found in Fort Bend County amidst the drumbeats of war.

Historical facts and photos courtesy of the Fort Bend County Museum Association, Richmond, TX

 

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