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Author Topic: Christmas Day on a Battleship 1907  (Read 1390 times)

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Offline CDP

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Christmas Day on a Battleship 1907
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2015, 13:43:55 »

(By the Rev.G.Goodenough, Chaplain of H.M.Dockyard, Sheerness).
Whatever may be the case ashore, the seamen and marines of the Royal Navy know how to make Christmas when it comes around, a time of good cheer. And in this they are only keeping up a jolly tradition of long standing in our ships of war.

The Rev. Henry Teongue, chaplain of H.M.Ships Royal Oak and Assistant in the reign of Charles II, gives us in his interesting diary a charming account a Christmas aboard his ship. “At early dawn the great day was ushered in with the sound of trumpets. In due course the ships company assembled for prayers and sermon, which was followed by a mighty dinner and", said the chaplain “We ended the day with much civil myrthe”.

Nowadays we don’t wake our men in the Navy with the sounding of trumpets but we still keep up the custom of a right Merry Christmas. Let me describe such a Christmas as I once experienced in the flagship of the Channel Squadron:

The coming great event cast its shadow before in the laying in stocks of hams - dear to the heart of the blue jacket – turkeys, geese and fresh beef, vegetables, fruit, nuts, biscuits etc.  Then, on Christmas Eve, all but the absolutely necessary work of the ship was suspended, the hands were “piped down“ and everybody was free to prepare the birds and joints for the galley, stone the raisins and mix the duff, and last, but not least, to decorate the mess deck with chains and chandeliers of coloured paper and trophies of photographs and curios.

I had a couple of cardboard alphabets, which were in great demand for cutting out mottoes and had to work away with the scissors till my fingers ached. Hard as we all worked – and never were there more cheerful workers – we had to ask for “extra lights“ to enable us to finish our preparations and it was past midnight before we turned in, tired but happy in anticipation of the forthcoming festival.
On Christmas morning the Church Pennant was duly hoisted as early as possible and we went to church on the upper deck, dispensing with the usual arrangements of chairs for the Officers and capstan bars or buckets for the men, for it would have been a shame to disturb the festive arrangements of the men's messes.

The Christmas morning service is not a long one.The Chaplain’s sermon did not occupy many minutes, so nobody minded standing for this. Of course we had the proper Christmas hymn  ”Hark the herald angels sing“, “While shepherds watched“ and “Oh, come all ye faithful!“.Splendid it was to hear the dear old words rolling forth from hundreds of lusty voices.

Church over, then came a pause and then the ceremony of the day begins with the appearance of the Master-at-arms to announce that the mess deck is ready for the visit of the Admiral, the Captain, and the Officers. Up strikes the band with "The Roast Beef of Old England“ and off we start, headed by the Admiral and the Captain to make the round of the messes, partake of the men's hospitality, and exchange hearty greetings with them.

As we come to each mess there stands to receive us two of its members, one with a plate of Christmas pudding – or plum duff – to give it its naval title, and the other with cake, nuts and biscuits. It is usual for each officer to take toll in this way from every mess, so that as we get on with our journey we become loaded with sticky treasures . I did not however, bargain for having my pockets turned into receptacles for pudding and cake by a mischievous messmate .

“A Merry Christmas to you sir “ greets us all as we pass and we are equally ready with the cheerful and friendly “The same to you and many of them“. No sooner had the last officer quit the mess-deck then all hands fall to with a will and the feast goes merrily on. In the Wardroom and the Gunroom there are healths to be drunk to and Christmas good cheer to be enjoyed too, though not perhaps of the same gargantuan order as prevails on the lower deck . Then out comes pipes and cigarettes and yarns are spun and jokes cracked until one by one we drift off to quiet spots for a “stretch off the land“ or “shut eye“ and by-and-by no sound is heard, save perchance the murmurous breathing of some comfortable sleeper.

At six o’clock the word is passed  “Carol Service on the upper deck“. Some of my messmates had prophesied that this would be a failure but, I replied “After such a feast and a sleep, the fellows will wake up a bit cross – you cannot expect their digestions to stand such a strain without a mild protest – and then they will want something to interest them. I am sure they will come, and I was right. The men flocked up and we had a charming little lantern service. The service over, everybody settled down pleasantly throughout the ship, the Officers to their dinner, the men to snacks of supper, accompanied by the twanging of mandolins and all kinds of music. Later on we had a capital sing-song, and thus brought to a close our happy day “with much civil myrthe“.
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