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Crossing The Equator (The Script of the Ceremony in HMCS Stettler 1957 February 26, 1957 at 106° East Longitude)
(Name of original author not recorded 1957)
Note to Reader: This is a typical script for a Crossing the Line ceremony. No two ceremonies were the same – but most followed a typical pattern. This is the script of one such ceremony reflecting the experiences and collective memories of the crew who were already ’Shellbacks‘.
King Neptune CPO Dodds RCN Queen Amphitrite CPO Day RCN Herald CPO Mancor RCN Secretary AB Laferniere RCN Judge P2 Johnson RCN Davey Jones P2 Broster RCN Chief Police CPO Bartram RCN Chief Bear P2 Campbell-Hope RCN Doctor Lt. Atkinson RCN Doctor PO Canning RCN Doctor LS Norgaard RCN Barber AB Mee RCN Barber LS Cairns RCN Trident Stamper LS Dyck RCN Trident Stamper LS Hamilton RCN Policeman No. 1 CPO Taylor RCN Policeman No. 2 LCDR Joy RCN Policeman No. 3 P2 Oliver RCN Policeman No. 4 P2 Webb RCN Policeman No. 5 P2 Umpleby RCN Policeman No. 6 LS Cheese RCN Policeman No. 7 LS Rose RCN Policeman No. 8 PO Lushington RCN Bear No. 1 PO Rose RCN Bear No. 2 CPO Charlton RCN Bear No. 3 PO Wiegand RCN Bear No. 4 PO Fairfield RCN Bear No. 5 LS McMaster RCN Bear No. 6 LCDR Ewens RCN Bear No. 7 LT Andrews RCN Bear No. 8 P2 Cook RCN
The History Behind the ‘Crossing the Line Ceremony’
Way back in the enlightened days of the world’s history when the Greek civilization was in it’s prime ... when Romulus and Remus were nothing more than twinkles in their father’s eyes, and Britons were even less civilized than they are today ... there was a god, a deity called Poseidon. As the books have it, ‘His domain was of Hercules and he had some authority’ – in other words he was a god of the seas and the ancient Greek matelots were accustomed to burning incense and signing ‘Eternal Father’ and other odds and ends to intercede for his good offices. In fact, the Greeks went even further than we do today by erecting Atlas at seaports and training specialist-priests to attend to the rites and rituals. It was an extremely high organized business but history does not relate whether or not Poseidon cam through in the pinches.
Now Poseidon, by the simple expedient of turning on a storm now and then to frighten the poor Greeks was doing quite well for himself for several centuries and would have lived happily ever after if it hadn’t been for the Romans. The Romans were not up to much in the way of seamanship but they had all taken Leadership Courses and even in those days this was what counted in the long run for they finally succeeded in driving the Greeks from the seas, Even then, however, Poseidon continued to whip up the odd storm at sea and the Romans, although this did not frighten them particularly decided it was only logical to do something about the situation. The answer was of course, to obtain the services of a god who could effectively put Poseidon in the shade and the Romans, having no spare gods around Olympus at that time, had to borrow one from the Etriscans (history does not relate if it was ever returned).
His name was Nethuns or Nethunus depending on which part of Etruscia you came from but the Romans called him Neptunus for short. Poor old Poseidon, of course, was left far behind because the Romans were fairly rich and could erect more altars and sing more choruses of Eternal Father than the Greeks ever deemed absolutely necessary. In fact, to show you how far Neptunus did go, Poseidon had a wife called Amphitrite, who was incidentally, the daughter of Oceanus, a very big wheel in the Greek system and he had gone to some trouble to marry this woman ... she didn’t particularly like the idea and has fled to Mount Atlas when she heard of it, but Poseidon had sent along one of his dolphins to collect her ... Neptunus actually adopted this woman, which made him Poseidon’s father-in-law and Poseidon, on hearing this, committed suicide by drowning himself in his own ocean.
Well, to make a long story short, while we know all about Neptune, his life, and works, historians of a later date were not so smart as the Romans and Greeks and they did not write down how the ‘Crossing the Line Ceremony’ came into being so present day scholars have to say that ‘It’s origin is wrapt (shrouded) in mystery’, and that ‘we can only guess at the actual date of its inception into the maritime services. Some fairly educated guesses have been made though and the dates have been narrowed down to the half century between 1768 and 1818. One Professor Callender, whose opinion we must admit is rather biased in those matters reckons that the custom was brought into being in the Royal Navy’s East Indian Command during Nelson’s day. Since most of the navy’s most peculiar customs can be traced back to dear old Nelson, one way or another, this may be considered not a bad guess.
Why they chose the Equator instead of the International Date Line or the Arctic Circle is another point altogether and your guess is as good as Callendar’s.
To bring this short history right up to date, it should be mentioned that certain sects or cults such as the Royal Canadian Navy, still practice the ancient ritual of Crossing the Line (although in its enlightened form) and on the following pages will be found the complete details of the latest ceremony which was carried out in Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship ‘Stettler’ when it crossed the Equator in February 1957.
The enlightened ceremony takes three phases: First, the Herald of his Oceanic Majesty comes on board the night previous to the actual crossing in order to inspect the ship and decide upon its worthiness to receive on board Neptunus Rex in all his glory. His opinion favorable, Neptune himself comes on board the following day with all his court, and presents Orders and Awards to those Shellbacks who have proven themselves worthy thereof on the Quarterdeck. The third and final phase is when King Neptune retires to the Quarterdeck and supervises the initiation of the tadpoles.
Note: A Shellback is one who has been initiated into the Ancient Order of the Mysteries of the Deep. (i.e. one who has crossed the Line before.) A Tadpole is one who has not yet had this privilege.
Text of radio message received from King Neptune.
CROSSING THE LINE CEREMONY
Scene 1: The bridge. (As if by mistake, the whole scene is enacted over the Armament Broadcast.
Time: Around 2000 the night before crossing the Line.
O.O.W.: (Over the Armament Broadcast)
Object bearing right ahead, Sir. Looks like some sort of fish. (Short Pause). Appears to be surfacing Sir!
Very Good! That will be King Neptune’s Herald. We are closing the Equator rapidly. Executive Officer, pipe clear lower decks to the Forecastle. Guns, muster the Cadet’s Guard. Officer of the Watch, stand by to ...
(The Captain is interrupted by the lookout).
Lookout: (Voice played by O.O.W.)
Green One Zero, Sir, a light, near!
Very good, alter course towards it, Officer of the Watch.
The ship will close toward the alleged light for about five minutes with no further patter in order to allow the ship’s company to assemble on the Forecastle.
Scene II: Both Herald and Captain speak through loud hailers. The Captain is on the Bridge and the Herald on the Forecastle.
Herald: (From behind the fog spray)
I’ve heard your ships’ around, Now tell me, whither bound?
We sail for Singapore, We’ve steamed for many a day, Now I’ve got a lot to do, So tell me, who are you?
I am the Herald of the court of his Oceanic Majesty; King Neptune ordered me aboard and I’ll commit no travesty.
For you I’ll stop my ship, Come forth, and no more lip.
Herald: (accompanied by Davy Jones, the secretary and 4 bears) advances through the spray whilst a bear sounds the alert).
Look sharp, then sire, if you please, By what right do you challenge us on the high seas?
By the custom of powers invested right, In King Neptune and Queen Amphitrite Who sent us to your mighty ship To check and see if you are fit, We cannot take you cross the our Line Without the stamp of the Trident Sigh
(Herald draws his sword, and the bears growl ...)
It is of course without disdain, That I’ll accept your word, We’re crossing into your domain, So sheath that mighty sword.
(The sword must, of course, be a ridiculous looking affair.)
King Neptune will be glad I’m sure, To have you cross his border: If you’re a shellback, let us hope Your papers are in order.
A better tadpole never lived, Or walked the ocean floor: So tell King Neptune I’ve never crossed His bloody line before. And if you think I’m not so hard Have Davy Jones inspect my guard.
I’ll do your will, So, sound the still.
(A Bear complies, and as he does Davy Jones steps through the spray. Meanwhile the guard has been marched to the front and Davy Jones with lots of slapstick inspects it. (e.g. He points out haircuts with a dead fish which he carries under his arm like a telescope.)
A froustier guard I’ve never seen They look like hell and smell unclean.
(Bears commence shouting ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ at the top of their lungs).
Keep silence in the Bears. Before this mighty ship of war (To the assembled multitude) Had slipped from her home port A spy of mine had come aboard Her complement to sort. He’s scanned the names of every one ... Come forward now, your work is done.
Secretary: (The Secretary makes an appearance carrying a large book).
The nominal list I’ve closely scanned, To learn by whom this ship is manned. 120 persons more or less Who by their conscience must confess They have not joined our Royal Mess. They must be made to taste the salt Of my King’s Royal Main. And choke upon our pills and soap ‘Ere they can cross again.
(Bears once more start shouting ‘Unclean! Unclean!’)
At two bells of the forenoon watch Tomorrow, come what may, His Oceanic Majesty, King Neptune will hold sway. And by the ancient laws laid down By custom will ordain That all you tadpoles, young and old, Be initiated in our name.
All Hail King Neptune!
(Bears, in a fit of frantic fervor shriek ‘Blood! Blood!’)
Keep silence ... (Pauses till shouting dies down.) Assure King Neptune that we all Are honored by this meeting: And please convey to him our thanks And our most loyal greeting. We shall be ready for our King And glad to meet his Queen And will she bring her daughters fair To beautify the scene?
(Bears make wolf calls, etc.)
It cannot be: A sea nymph form Would take each sailors heart by storm. Our good queen spares them from such shows Because they haven’t any clothes ... The queen will come alone.
(Bears once again start wolf calls, etc.)(The company commences retiring through the spray. The Herald is the last to go through and just before he does, he turns to the multitude and says)
I command you all to rest with sorrow The fittest will survive tomorrow ...
(Very’s Lights of various colours are shot from before the spray and as they are, all lights on the Forecastle are turned out, and a heinous, sub-human laugh is heard from the eyes of the ship.)
Scene 1: (The Quarterdeck. Lower decks have been cleared to the Quarter Deck and King Neptune’s court has assembled in full regalia in the Radio Flat. King Neptune and the Queen are readied on two sedan chairs assisted by six bears. The remainder of the shellbacks, the bears and the police have assembled in traditional garb. The bears and police having cleared the way in traditional fashion, muster on the Quarter Deck and it is now time for the Royal Court itself to arrive. King Neptune and the Queen will be carried to the Quarter Deck helped from their chairs and assisted to their thrones.)
Herald: (On entrance)
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Make way for his Most Glorious Oceanic Majesty Neptunus Rex, Ruler of all who sail upon the sea upon their lawful occasion. Hear Ye!
(On arrival of Neptune and Amphitrite) All Hail King Neptune!
King Neptune and Queen Amphitrite Preside
Bears & Police:
All hail King Neptune!
Herald: (He calls for silence and is assisted in getting it if necessary by the police.)
Captain, call your crew to attention for the Oceanic Anthem!
Captain: (Complies). (Led by the Herald, the complete ensemble of shellbacks sing in delorous tones, the Oceanic Anthem (Tune: ‘All Hail Methusalem’)
All Hail His Majesty The Ruler of the raging sea All Hail Queen Amphitrite Her gorgeous beauty, what a sight.
(Captain now stands the ships company at ease and bids it pay attention.)
In humblest duty, Sire, I bring To you, our Oceanic King, All here on board, may they submit To what in Ancient Laws is writ.
Neptune: (Acknowledges the Captain’s remarks, then turns to address the ship’s company.)
Good morning, Stettler, you’ve come a long way, And I’ve waited months for this glorious day. For all know full well what I’ve come to do For I hear there are tadpoles among your crew.
My barbers are good, and widely renowned,
(Barbers step forward gesticulating sadistically.)
Their razors are sharper than ever been ground. My doctors are butchers and as for their pills, They’re better than Exlax for curing your ills.
Ere you punish our crimes with that terrible fork I present for your favor my crew to your court.
From my courtly Herald I’ve heard it told That there are some in your crew so brave and bold As to warrant my favor ... there may be some missed. So Herald, bring forward my honor list.
Herald: (Reading from a large scroll)
Captain! (Captain comes forth and kneels at the feet of the King.)
For steaming this ship from Vancouver Isle (The faces of your crew are still wreathed in smiles) To Pearl, Guam, Manilla and all, You have driven this ship at a distance not small. I hope that you Sir, will never disdain This Knightly Order of Propeller and Chain. (Captain is awarded Order and dubbed with Trident.) I also command you as King of the Seas, To pay me a tribute while still on your knees, This token to be an extra beer all round, Or I’ll take your old ship and run her aground.
It will be done.
Arise Old Sea Dog Fifth Class of the Ancient Order of the Propeller and Chain. (Captain retires to the background, having been bussed on both cheeks a la French.)
Herald: (From scroll)
Executive Officer. (First Lieutenant comes forward and kneels.)
For performing your chores as number one wheel And keeping her clean from her truck to her keel I decree that you, Sir, this ship’s first rater Will wear this Order of Paint Brush and Scraper. (Executive Officer is awarded Order and dubbed with Trident.) While still on your knees oh! No. 1 Boy, It is sad to relate you still give me no Joy, I order a tribute from you to your crew, 30 more minutes for lunch hour will do.
It will be done, Oh King!
Arise Old Sea Dog Sixth Class of the Ancient Order of Brush and Scaper.
Engineer Officer (Lieutenant (E) comes forth but does not kneel.)
A Scotsman they tell me you always will be, As craft, as cunning to find from one port to the next, And as Haig should know Haig It is as we well know you And present the Royal Order of Ye Old Duggans Du.
Promoted to the rank of Assistant Sampler of His Oceanic Majesty’s Brewers and Distillers.
For being well versed in the art of the book, For laying the law as to what Cooks can cook, It is seemly so right that your order should be, An appointment as Baker in my depths of the sea.
Appointed Baker Seventh Class to His Oceanic Majesty.
C.P.O. Charlton (comes forth, kneels)
For delving into Amps and the Watt, For keeping my Mermaids all hot to trot, You’ll do me great honor, enough that I feel, To make you Head Charger To recharge my Eels.
Appointed Chief Eel Charger Grade Three
P.O. Cook (comes forth, kneels)
Since you’re the man who sweats and cooks, And stands abuse and ugly looks And tries to keep things hot for noon I feel you’re entitled to the Greasy Spoon. (He is dubbed with the Trident and presented with the spoon.)
Arise Sir Knight, Commander of the Venerable Order of the Greasy Spoon. (Addressing His Majesty) If your Majesty finds it convenient, We’ve had time enough to be lenient, Its just about time for that big tank of brine, To make you all shellbacks for ‘Crossing the Line’.
Aye, lead on to the Quarterdeck. (Herald precedes His Majesty and the court falls in behind. Bears and Police commence heckling the tadpoles and fall in behind the court. The whole procession moves to the Quarterdeck at the slow march, the Herald Announcing all the way ...) Make Way! Make Way For His Oceanic Majesty. Clear a way you lowly tadpoles.
Scene II: (On the Quarter Deck. The court and shellbacks have taken up their positions, and the King is ready to see his defaulters. Trumpeter sounds The Alert, and the Herald calls for silence.)
King Neptune, I, Lord of the Sea, Welcome you all who ‘ere you be: I am the Lord of the Oceans wide, Lord of the Rivers ... Lord of the tide, My laws are strict, but do not fear, If you will only persevere To keep the freedom of the seas, As recognized by our degrees, Here are the Bears, the Suds, the Bath; They are the only certain path For all who wish to cross the Line, And be enrolled as sons of mine. In order then, as we command, Before us let each Tadpole stand Who has his freedom yet to win ... Enough ... My Trusty Men, Begin!
If you will see defaulters first We’ll save till last the best ... and worst.
Hearing Cases of Defaulters
Hearing Cases of Defaulters
So be it.
P.O. Driemel (comes forth, kneels) This miserable little Pollywog We know so very well He’s labored like a racing dog Cutting hair in our squid well In consequence of this report What is the judgment of this court?
King Neptune’s barbers don’t agree On pollywogs who charge a fee So you may learn to operate Let my barbers demonstrate When your certificate you do obtain Your shearing and clipping may start again Barbers ... Proceed!
P.O. Cooper (comes forth, kneels) Here is a Pollywog who must repent In running the canteen on four percent I think this court will also agree Old Davey’s locker is Entirely Free I ask the court what is the rule Governing the ways of a money mad fool.
With your Majesty’s permission I ask That he be given a worthy task A shave, a haircut, and dunked in brine I think the treatment will fix him up fine.
Chief O.T. (comes forth, kneels) We who have before us an old sea dog Who has seen good storms of wind and fog And finally as all things do Neptunes court has caught up to you For 20 years now you’ve been north of our line Now for your sins you’ll pay the fine I ask the court what they think Of committing the dog to Neptune’s brine.
For such behavior he’s not to blame It took a long time but he finally came, Now before much more adieu Trusty barbers I give him to you ... Do your duty.
AB Whaley (comes forth, kneels) This pollywog creature of stature bold Committed a crime that leaves us cold A Dastardly deed he tried to do To start a revolt against a shellback true And used his Highness’ name in vain I trust this court spare him no pain For this crime he’ll have to pay I suggest port lookout the rest of the day.
A dastardly deed, This revolt you planned, And from this court you should be banned But as a shellback you wish to become Repent, this deed which you have done So dunk him twice my worthy bears To cleanse his soul of such affairs.
OS Walker (comes forth, kneels) Here’s a tadpole of seventeen Over our line he’s never been This is no crime you will agree A dumber one you’ll never see A suitable punishment would be to ban For he lost the spacer in the Engine Room fan. It caused great struggle work and grief To the electrical branch and the big white Chief.
So – fat little tadpole, doer of sins From this moment on the test begins So into the tank without any whines Dunk him oh bears, three or four times.
Cook Merrett (comes forth, and kneels) It has been noticed on this ship To spill your gash on every trip So – my unworthy cook From this court you’ll get the book So oh loyal subjects have no quirks And give this cook the bloody works.
I have noticed in the aforesaid crime That you take no heed at any time So I the Judge, will have to rule The barber first and then the pool.
Stoker Dix (comes forth, kneels) To Manilla our ships did come To see the sights and have some fun But this stoker who is a defaulter Picked up a girl and played with her haulter To sum it up on this occasion He soon broke down to her persuasion So now like all stokers oh so bold You’re no longer a virgin, of this I’m told.
On this day you have no plea So the doctor you’ll have to see Until the Doctor’s reports I’ve seen I cannot report you to the court as clean So my bears sit him on the stool And dunk him twice in the pool.
Lt. Bowen (comes forth, kneels) It has been noticed that you tried To grow a beard your face to hide So to you I pass this tip At the rate its growing you wont leave the ship But by request of the Captain you may see For this jolly fellow will hear your plea The captain being a really good sport Will let you ashore in the very next port.
My answer’s this for the time to save I’ll tell the barber your face to shave So all my bears mess him up with gunk And into the pool we shall dunk.
At this point in the ceremony the remainder of the ship’s company were pushed and prodded into line for their cleansing, by the bears and police. Some fight but to no avail for in the end they all go in. During the days preceeding the big day, an undercurrent of fear had been running strongly among the tadpoles. Fear led to action and a revolt began. It started with notices, on the notice boards and now at this point in the ceremonies, came to a head. The tadpoles (now shellbacks) held a mock court. A definite mockery of the court of King Neptune. They took over as Herald, Judge, Barbers, Bears, Police and Doctors. The following is an account of their court.
The Jimmy claims he’s been across – Did he swim or fly? It’s not for us to find out how – Or know the reason why. Cleanse him !!!
LCDR Don Joy (the XO) unexpectedly being dunked.
LCDR Don Joy RCN (the XO) after unexpectedly being dunked.
The cox’n rants and raves and screams – ‘A full kit you shall bring.’ And then he pulls on O.D.’s trick, And forgets the ruddy thing. Cleanse him !!!
Our engineroom he keeps rotating – We don’t break down – for long. His certificate in Victoria may be waiting, But proof he didn’t bring along. Cleanse him !!!
By C.P.R. he went across, Or was it undersail? Why should we believe his word – It sounds like quite a tale. Cleanse him !!!
Oh! Double-named one – you claim the fame Of passing through this great domain You are of great stature – but lacking of memory – To forget your certificate is a felony. Cleanse him !!!
Oh! Postie – Who has access to The mails we would get from home. Some would suggest that you would stoop To take the Buffer’s own. Cleanse him !!!
Oh! Cullinary genius – short of hair. Beware of hungry tadpoles ‘EX’ We know you’ve been across before, But brother – you are next. Cleanse him !!!
Now, the regular ceremony is once again resumed until everyone has been put through the tank.
LCDR George MacFarlane RCN (Captain of HMCS Stettler) about to be dunked.
To quote from this article please cite:
Anon. (2012) Crossing The Equator (The Script of the Ceremony in HMCS Stettler 1957 February 26, 1957 at 106° East Longitude). Nauticapedia.ca 2012. http://nauticapedia.info/Articles/Crossing_the_Line_1957_Ceremony.php
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