For all landlubbers everywhere, ignorance is no excuse. A crusty shellback is what you become after a grueling initiation into the Ancient Order of the Deep, the hallowed and exclusive realm of King Neptunus Rex, who we will call Rex for short. This exclusive club is not open to just anybody, but is conferred only upon those who fully satisfy the requirements of membership. At a minimum one must cross the equator aboard a navy ship, and you must survive the initiation. This is not an exercise for the faint-hearted, and you are not offered a breather complete with tea and crumpets in route to membership. Those who resist may be marked for life!!!! All new initiates are marked at least until after their first shower.
Knowing the landlubbers among you may not fully appreciate the circumstances, I will offer a brief picture of one quite lethal perspective. The battleship Missouri (BB-63) on which I was initiated in 1953, was manned by over two thousand battle-hardened sailors, a hearty bunch including hundreds who survived the big one, WWII. In spite of their honor and dedication to the real navy, they tend to harbor a cluster of resentments of those in authority. During a summer cruise on which their territory is invaded by hundreds of future navy officers, particularly those lolling on college campuses, an officially sanctioned opportunity to administer a humble pill is the rare opportunity of a lifetime.
And on a ship the size of the Missouri, the weapons of torture are devious and diverse. The initiation ceremony is planned and executed by those who have been through the mill, and who bear the scars from their own searing experience. In the 1950s the navy was still a pure breed, as only Sparticus and Hercules types were assigned to duty on fighting vessels. The only female in sight was the ship herself, which was manned strictly by men. Had women been aboard at the time, there are undoubtedly certain maneuvers during initiation that would have been barred, or preferred as the case may be.
Resurrecting graphic details from the ordeal, the following shots are offered. Click on each to view an enlarged version.
From the reverse dunking pool, pollywogs crawl out of the water onto the gauntlet line. There shellbacks are armed with three inch fire hoses which they swat across anything exposed. Pollywogs who resist may be provided special hosing. Crawling fast, the next stop is the Royal Court which is chaired by the Royal Baby, the fattest cook in the mess hall. He is dressed in only a diaper with alum and bilge water smeared liberally over his Royal Belly. To receive the court’s blessing, each initiate must kiss the Royal Belly before crawling off. After the initiation, the Royal Court retreats, exposing the Royal Bottom. While a nearby cook picks his nose, many new Crusty Shellbacks are grateful they were not required to kiss the Royal Behind. That part comes later.