Shellback Initiation

It has been a long naval tradition to initiate "pollywogs" into the Kingdom of Neptune - the legendary god of the seas, upon their first crossing of the Equator. Captains of ships have always taken time, either in war or peace, to uphold this long practiced ceremony. The ceremony has changed in recent years due to gender factors, but the intent is still very much alive.  It should also be noted that the tradition holds no regard for rank.  Officers and Enlisted are treated equally (or nearly so, as you will see below).

A ship knowing it will cross the Equator will pile up stores of garbage and smelly clothes and anything that is vile but not life threatening. On the appointed day and time the uninitiated are led out on deck, usually in humiliating garb (bathing suits underneath - nowadays!), paraded around the deck, and made to do unspeakable things. Actually it is great fun and no one is supposed to get hurt (although the occasional accident occurs). The 'wogs' have their heads shaved, and then are made to run a gauntlet, being belted with greased socks stuffed with rags or other such instruments, crawl through the garbage, suffer other indignities, and at the end you HAVE to kiss the belly of Neputne. This is usually the fatest, biggest beer gut guy they have on board. He'll grab you by the ears and rub your face in his belly which is covered with mustard, oil and stuff. When he feels you have suffered enough you are pronounced a "Shellback".

Afterwards, a good hot shower is had and usually a good hot meal. You are issued an official 'Shellback' card.  You must keep this card, because if you lose it you will have to go through the ordeal again. There are no exceptions to this rule. I knew many sailors who did lose their cards. I even knew a guy who thought he lost his card, went through all that stuff again and then found his original card later.

Thanks to Tom Collins, ex-U.S.N. for his description of the shellback initiation!

Crossing the Line on the '794
The LST 794 crossed the Equator for the first time on January 10th, 1945, en-route from Pearl Harbor to Espiritu Santo. 
Upon this occassion, King Neptune raised his flag to the top of the crosstrees . . .

Neptune's Flag

  . . . and and the initiation commenced! 

The crew gathered 

Crew Gathering on Weather Deck

King Neptune (center) made his appearance with his assistants: 

The crew got thoroughly wet

Spraying the CrewCrew Initiation

Apparently,  electricity  was involved 

(note that officers purportedly got a higher dose than enlisted - PAYBACK TIME! )

High Voltage!

. . . . Then everybody had to kiss Neptune's belly 
Kissing Neptune
Once properly initiated as into Neptune's kingdom as shellbacks, the crew celebrated.  Each new shellback was given the following certificate

Shellback Certificate

I know that the text is undreadable at this scale.  It reads as follows

TO ALL SAILORS WHEREVER YE MAY BE:    and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Sharks, Dolphins, Eels, Skates, Suckers, Crabs, Lobsters, and all other Living Things of the Sea.
GREETINGS:  Know ye That on this ninth day of January,  1945, in Latitude 0000 and Longitude 176 o28' W there appeared within Our Royal Domain the U.S.S. LST 794 bound SW for the Equator and for Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands

That the said Vessel and Officers and Crew thereof have been inspected and passed on by Ourself and Our Royal Staff 

AND BE IT KNOWN By all ye Sailors, Marines, Land Lubbers and others who may be honored by his presence that

William S. MacMinn
having been found worthy to be numbered as one of our Trusty Shellbacks he has been duly initiated into the 


BE IT FURTHER UNDERSTOOD That by virtue of the power invested in me I do hereby command all my subjects to show due honor and respect to him wherever he may be. 

Disobey this order under penalty of Our Royal Displeasure

Given under our hand and seal this 10th day of January, 1945


Neptunus Rex
Ruler of the Raging Main
        by his servant  W.C. Cain,  Lieut.  USCGR

From the looks of the photos,  a good time was had by all.

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