The story that follows has been copied from "Our Navy" Magazine dated First of May 1940.
Provided by George Del Gaudio
The "Shellback" ritual took place during the USS Helena CL-50 Shakedown Cruise. The date was January 13, 1940.
Read and see pictures of the CL-50 Shakedown Cruise, click HERE.
From Pollywog to Shellback
By RICHARD H. DOBBINS
(Richard H. Dobbins was killed on 7 December 1941, aboard the USS Helena CL-50. He was found in the ships engine room)
For weeks, ever since the news got around that the Helena was to make her shakedown cruise to South America insidious rumors flew around. Rumors of awful things to happen to all pollywogs. Now I, being of sound mind and body, just discounted most of them and passed them off as idle scuttlebutt.
Little did I know what was to be in store for me.
After ages, the cruise started. And, after a week of anxious waiting and anxiety, the eve of King Neptune's visit rolled around.
With the crew at quarters on the fantail, Davy Jones, His Majesty's emissary, came aboard and read his proclamation. Our Executive officer, Comdr. Richardson, welcomed him and assured Davy that all would be in readiness for the awaited Royal visit. After a brief warning as to what to expect, Davy Jones took leave of the gathering.
Questions flew thick and fast. What sort of things were to happen; how long would it last? Rumors and guesses were many, and the shellbacks would give no help in the matter, except to look sad and shake their heads.
Came the dawn. All hands, gathered again at quarters on the fateful and long to be remembered day of January 13, 1940.
'Twas a sad day. All the initiates had been hearing of the evils that were to befall them, for many a moon. Now, at long last, was the day and allotted time.
As had been predicted by the Royal Scribe, Davy Jones, King Neptune, with the Queen and Royal Baby, DID appear. All dressed in costumes of their rank and prestige. And with such pomp and pageantry I wondered if all was to be well.
A one gun salute was given. . . The Jolly Roger was hoisted at the foremast. . . And the ship was given over to King Neptune, Ruler of the Raging Main. . . .
His Royal Court divided themselves about the ship in their allotted places . . . And the fun (for the shellbacks) was ready to begin . . .
When my turn came, I ducked under a low rope, and with instructions to hold my hands high, I began my slow march toward the platform where the Royal Judges sat. I had to pass through a long, double line of huge shell-backs, each armed with a mighty paddle or, worse, a long tube of canvas stuffed with either rags or sawdust. Each one was careful to put as much power behind each stroke as he possibly could-much to the sorrow of the Pollywogs.
Halfway through the double line of maniacs, one of them conceived the idea of putting this lowly person in the DOGHOUSE, which was a large, well ventilated affair, that afforded ample opportunity for a well directed stream of salt water to wet down those inside.
Ordered out of my temporary haven, this insignificant person was forced to walk (NOT RUN) through the rest of the line. Each, seemingly, having a harder stroke than the last.
Mounting a low platform, I stepped upon a metal plate on deck just as one of the Royal Police jabbed me in the ribs with a spear. As he did, I could feel electricity course through my body. Then as if this were not enough, this pollywog was told to bow to the Royal Judges. As the bow reached the breaking point, I was found "GUILTY OF ALL CHARGES," and another and less weary shellback aimed, and with a mighty swoosh, a larger paddle of the caveman type descended upon the spot that had received the most punishment.
Abruptly straightening up, a pill of the most evil tasting concoction ever mixed or brewed this side of Hades, was inserted into my wide open mouth . . . Told to "Chew" . . . I chewed
Seized with rough hands I was forced to sit in a chair, I was then examined by a small but efficient group-the Royal Barbers. Checking to determine the length of my forelock, a generous cut was taken on the spot . Spying a few scattered hairs on my manly chest only incited them to further deviltry.. . . A brush, well soaked in fuel oil, was quickly and thoroughly applied to my chest and what was left of my curly locks . . .
Suddenly the chair was tipped backwards. . . Into space my body was hurtled, to fall with considerable splash,
and confusion into a tank of salt water below . Rough and willing hands seized me in an instant . . . When my head appeared above the surface, a voice from nowhere ordered me to repeat "SHELLBACK," which I hastily did to the best of my ability, notwithstanding the fact that my mouth still held the taste of that pill and my throat was choked with at least gallons of water.
Hoisted with little ceremony. I slid down an incline . . . Down . . . Down . . . Into waiting arms below.
Crawling on hands and knees I was forced to transverse a large canvas tube, the bottom of which was coated with a combination of flour, lampblack and salt water . . . All the while a lively tatoo was being beat on the upper part of my now aching body . . . As I dragged my weary being along I could see daylight ahead. . . The end was in sight. Entering on deck once more, a final swat was delivered upon my posterior by some unnamed assailant.
Staggering a few steps away from the opening and not feeling any more assaults upon my person, I came to realize the fact that, now, after all I had suffered, I was a full fledged SHELLBACK . .
After it is all over, the thought that is uppermost in my mind is . . . "There will come a time". . . and when that time comes, now in the dim future, I will not stand idle on the sidelines. I will have important work to do . . .
Pollywogs marching to their doom.
The Royal Court ponders the fate of a recalcitrant pollywog.
The verdict seems to have been "Guilty" and the pollywog
is impressed with the court's decision.
King Neptune and his Royal Court being welcomed aboard the
Helena by Captain DeMott.
The Royal Artist decorates a slimy pollwog.
In the hands, but not for long, of the Royal Barbers.
Midshipmen's Practice Cruise
Approximately 1100 members of the present Second Class and present Fourth Class of the United States Naval Academy, will make the Midshipmen's Practice Cruise aboard three battleships-USS Texas, flagship; USS ARKANSAS; and USS Nxw Yong of the Atlantic Squadron, under command of Rear Admiral Hayne Ellis, U.S.N., Commander, Atlantic Squadron. The Midshipmen will be divided into three groups, one group to each battleship.
The itinerary of the cruise of more than eleven weeks duration will be:
Arrive Port Depart
Annapolis. Md. 8 June
15 June Colon, C. Z 20 June
24 June La Guaira, Ven. 28 June
12 July Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 20 July
6 August Guantanamo, Cuba 12 August
17 August Hampton Roads, VA. 22 August
23 August New York, N. Y. 26 August
28 August Annapolis
The present Third Class will make the usual short coastal cruises on destroyers. ,