1957 WESPAC Trip
Visit to King Neptunus Rex's Domain
by Wayne Dorough with help of a few shipmates.
We crossed the equator on January 20th and into King Neptuneus Rex's Domain. And that’s a whole story in itself!
A majority of the crew, about 80 percent of us, were "Pollywogs." And for those of you unaware of the term it refers to "you," in other words: a person that has not crossed the equator, in contrast to "Shellbacks" who have. I say "you" because if you ever crossed the equater, you darn well wouldn't need to ask what a "pollywog" was. The heart of the issue is that Shellbacks can’t stand the sight of Pollywogs!
"Arrrrr! Avast Ye scurvy dogs!"
"Take no prisoners!...Keelhaul the bilge-sucking rats!"
The day prior to crossing is called "Pollywog Day!" This is the time when the shellbacks get everything in place for the initiation the next day and the time when pollywogs are put through their test. They are given all kinds of degrading task and graded as to how well they perform. Garbage detail was one of those! Not just any garbage, but garbage that sat around a day or two in that hot equatorial sun.
The Spangler's 1957 Cruise Book reports that "The initiation started like everything else . . . with a lot of scuttlebutt. It was to he the death of all Pollywogs! Some were forced to eat alum, others had glue smeared under each armpit along with a diesel oil bath to boot. Thank goodness everyone lived through it! Granted there was a dash of pain mixed with a pint of grit and a gallon of fright envolved in the passing of these few hours of fun for the salty Shellbacks but they didn't get in all of the swacks because several Pollywogs managed to pull a few pants down and gave a few baths themselves on "free day". (The day before the crossing). Of course, they were sealing their own death warrant because the same Shellbacks proved to be vindictive when the next day arrived. Touche!"
J. M. Morris (pictured in the photo on the right) was one of the Pollywogs having fun and doused a few of the Shellbacks with a water hose and, as youi can see, those guys paid him back with vengence on Shellback Day!
"The day of initiation started with an impressive ceremony that brought Davy Jones, King Rex's scribe, out of the deep onto the forecastle where he was met by the Captain. The ol' man,' being a Shellback himself, had no mercy for we slimy Pollywogs and gave Davy full run of the ship and use of the intercon to call us a few names and warn us that his "All Mighty" was coming aboard to clean us of our nasty habits before entering his great domain."
"Just prior to Davy Jones makiung himself to home on our ship all Polywogs were herded to the forecastle. The dreaded moment was near! And no sooner said than done. The ol' wiry joker came aboard escorted by his complete staff and family: The Queen, the Royal Baby, Royal judge, Royal Police Royal this and that. Everyone was Regal!"
The initiation began with the Pollywogs forced to crawl through a gauntlet -- a 30-foot long canvas bag just big enough to fit your body in as you crawled through and got whacked with canvas belts in the process. Filled with slime and concrete sacks placed underneath to create humps, the going through was as rough as possible and slow going.
The Yoke 400 Shellbacks stood along both sides of the gauntlet swinging thick,one-quarter inch canvas paddles. These had been soaked in sea water and dried to stiffness.
"Hurry up! Hurry up! Damn it don’t stop, move on! Hey! Quit pushing me from behind!"
And so it went, as each pollywog crawled and slipped along the way crying out in pain as each strap slapped the top of the bag. You kept hoping and praying the entire distance that the guy in front of you didn’t pause, the faster he moved the faster you moved, and the less whacks you got. Unfortunately, unless you were the first guy through, you always had someone crawling through ahead of you and someone pushing you from behind.
When you finally worked your way free of gauntlet you were hoping and praying that was it for a while, only to get slammed in the face and body with a water hose. And it wasn’t the garden hose variety, either; a three-inch diameter fire hose was more like it!
From there you were forced to crawl on your hands and knees to the ships fantail where you were forced you to kneel before the Judge in King Neptune’s Court. Depending on how poorly you had progressed along the way, or if some sadistic shellback didn’t like your looks, you might be unlucky enough to have your hands and neck locked in a yoke while being struck on the butt with an electric cow prod. Ouch!
Typically, for initiations on most ships, King Neptune is the biggest, ugliest guy aboard. In our case he was big ol' Moore, the Capitan’s cook. Now while he definately wasn’t the ugliest guy on the ship, not by a long sho, he was definitely the biggest. He was also one of the nicest guys aboard, except on this day! His tummy looked like he was ready to birth an elephant, it was that big. And right in the center was a "big" bulls-eye. Your job as a Pollywog was to kiss it!
The royal barber came next with electric sheers to aid in sprucing you up a little, like giving you a G.I. haircut, cut by a sadist! After that came the 'Royal Bath' preceded by being fed a "Royal Oyster"
Some of us lucked out in the barber’s chair, our hair was chopped up a little here and there but otherwise not too bad, unlike Joe Mitchell’s hair which was shaved in a slice from the front to the back. Poor guy ended up having to visit the ship’s barber and having his head shaved or very close to it.
So, anyway, while in the "barber's chair, they cut our hair, forced our mouth open and jammed in the largest oyster one could possibly imagine, followed by a shove backwards into the Royal Bath. Yuk! The bottom of that thing was full of oysters guys had spit out!
Thus concluded our initiation. All who officially made it through the process were now "Shellbacks" and presented with a certificate made of parchment paper, along with a billfold size replica. We were informed athat if we ever ventured into King Neptunus Rex's Domain again we would need proof of a prior visit, or suffer the initiation all over again. . Many of us likely carried our certificate card in our billfold for years, long after leaving the Navy, just to make sure we stayed prepared. Suffering through the initiation once in a lifetime was enough!