Dec 6

The Christmas Ship

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 12:38 PM

By

Santa Clause distributing packages to children on board the USS Antares on Christmas Day, 1931

Santa Clause distributing packages to children on board the USS Antares on Christmas Day, 1931

The Christmas Ship

By Admiral Hugh Rodman, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The following item is from the New York Times of December 23, 1930 and was re-published in Proceedings magazine in 1931.

Washington, December 22 (AP)—Hundreds of happy children shouting from the decks of Uncle Sam’s warships will greet their seagoing Santa Claus as he climbs aboard with his bag on Christ­mas morning.

About 63,000 officers and men will spend Christ­mas this year aboard naval vessels. Far from home and their own children, the personnel of battleships and aircraft carriers have softened the homesick feeling by giving Christmas parties to the needy children of the port of anchor.

Naval officials today said the custom, inaugu­rated by Captain Hugh Rodman of the battleship New York in 1916, would be continued this year. It was estimated that more than 2,000 needy chil­dren would be entertained on Christmas day by the Navy afloat.

Nothing could give me greater pleasure and satisfaction than to feel that I am justly entitled to the credit of having established and perpetuated this custom, for such, I am sorry to say, is not the case; it belongs solely to the enlisted force of the New York, at Christmas time, 1915.

The men from the USS Mississippi contributed to a fund to entertain and buy presents for 200 orphan children. A Christmas tree, hundreds of presents, and a great dinner was shared.

In 1917, when we entered the war, I was ordered to command our battleship force serving with the grand fleet; the New York was my flagship. After hostilities ceased, and I had returned to America, in discussing con­ditions and the very friendly and cordial re­lations which existed between the American and British naval forces, amongst other statements was the following:

My flagship, the New York, was known in the Navy as the “Christmas Ship,” since it had origi­nated the custom of going into the highways and byways at Christmas time, collecting the waifs and strays who otherwise would have had no Christ­mas, and bringing them on board, after the ship had been elaborately decorated and prepared for their reception. We entertained them with a dinner, chil­dren’s games, and a Christmas tree where toys were distributed and where each boy received a scout outfit, and the girls a set of cheap furs. Here let it be said, though this was done under my com­mand, the conception and execution of the idea was entirely in the hands of the enlisted personnel, who deserve the entire credit.

Not knowing that we would be ordered abroad, we had laid in our supplies on the supposition that we would be in an American port, but Christmas found us at Edinburgh, Scotland.

After discussing the situation, the men decided that a child was a child, whether American or Scotch. They asked 125 children to come on board, preferably those who had been orphaned during the war—the poorer and more dependent, the better. They were assembled and brought down to the ship, some seven or eight miles, in motor busses. Once aboard they were entertained, given a good dinner, and the usual toys and presents, and in addi­tion each youngster was given two bright silver shillings—probably the greatest amount of cash any of them had ever possessed at any one time.

This statement is quoted in full and ver­batim to reiterate and emphasize the fact, that I would be a hypocrite, and sailing un­der false colors, if I claimed or let others be­lieve that I am entitled to the credit which belongs solely to the enlisted personnel of the New York serving on her at Christmas time, 1915.

My recollection is that the committee of the crew, headed by the chief master-at- arms, first made the suggestion, that it at once appealed to me, and officers and men alike wanted to subscribe and cooperate in making it a success. But it soon became ap­parent that since the men had originated the idea, and it promised to be a success, that they should receive the entire credit; and while the officers were more than willing to subscribe, none of us did, but freely gave our aid and assistance in promoting the en­terprise.

The “Christmas Ship” idea spread at once to other ships in the Navy, and I sincerely hope it has become the custom with all ships, and will be continued as one of the Navy’s most cherished traditions. It is interesting and advisable to record such events while fresh in one’s memory, and it is with this spirit I have done so.