The traditional ceremony of ‘crossing the line’ has been enacted for many centuries and even today, those on board ship who cross the equator for the first time are subject to a variety of high-jinx and must pay tribute to King Neptune. It has long been traditional to provide sailors with a certificate following the ceremony to prove they have crossed the equator and a few years ago we looked at an example form the carrier HMS Centaur here. Tonight we have another example of these certificates, this time from a different carrier HMS Eagle:This certificate dates from 1967, but I have been lucky enough to stumble upon an account of crossing the equator aboard HMS Eagle in 1971 that gives a great description of the atmosphere and ceremony aboard the carrier:
Tradition has it that ceremonies are performed in obeisance to King Neptune as ships cross the Equator, and a day was set aside for such merrymaking. Initiation, sacrifice, call it what you will: a representative selection of the Ship’s Company were selected to be shaved, dolloped, whitewashed and thrown to the bears. With full court regalia, mermaids, policemen, etc., the Captain was the first to sample the Eagle twin tub, whiter than white, dollopwash. (He was accused of- 1. Sailing on time; 2- ‘Did deprive the Ship’s Company of Whit weekend’; 3- was seen to smile at the return of the squadrons). The Commander, Doctor, Dentist, Schooly, youngest chap on board- were all for it and all were duly accused (in rhyme too) and ducked. The formalities over, the duckings became less formal and a few innocent and unprepared spectators were manhandled into the water, and by mid-afternoon the pools were filled with volunteers and pressed (or pushed) men. Of course, someone had to pull the plugs out; the water drained away and revealed a small collection of keys and false teeth at the bottom of the pools.
Here we see a member of the Ship’s Company of HMS Eagle being ducked in a pool, surrounded by his cheery shipmates:This certificate is part of a small grouping of artifacts all covering life on the carrier, we shall return to HMS Eagle in a few weeks for an interesting photograph of the ship herself.