CHRISTMAS ON THE MARS 1924

 

The Mars Magazine 1925 January – July

 

On land, a deep mantle of snow lay over all, whilst, in the Mars, it still clung to the masts, and had been frozen on the open decks. Ice floes drifting with the tide, frequently encountered the Ship’s cables, and, broken by the impact, continued their divided way, scrunching along her sides till clear. Such severe Winter conditions have not been known for a long time past. Yet there are some old sea-dogs still aboard, who can recall the year 1895, when the water supply was cut off by freezing, and the daily wash thus curtailed whilst the victualling of the ship’s company caused anxiety on account of communication with the shore being at a standstill. A picture of the occasion, depicting the Ship well nigh frozen in, hangs in the model room of the work-shops, and clearly illustrates the difficulties and dangers which must beset the Mars and her crew during the trying period. The Arctic elements now prevailing did not deter the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians from attending their respective churches in Newport. By their return it was close on dinner time, and the odour of roast beef and plum pudding already pervaded the main deck, which had been prettily decorated with coloured paper streamers and greenery.

 

It has become the custom for all Officers to show themselves on this auspicious occasion, and they willingly help in serving out the dinner, and making ready for the crew. Dessert, in the shape of apples, oranges, and chocolate cream, had been gifted by kind friends who never fail to think about the lads’ happiness at Yuletide. Before long, each one had found his place at table, and, with the blessing over, the Captain, who had arrived on the scene with Mrs Heathcote and their niece, wished one and all a happy Christmas – and the feast began.

 

Letters and parcels were given out, containing cards of greeting and piles of sweet-stuffs from home. The gramophone was switched on, and the youngsters left to their festive and innocent revelling, whilst the rest of the afternoon was occupied by each one enjoying himself according to his heart’s desire. Meat pies were in evidence at tea time – but not for long. The lady who was good enough to supply these delicacies may rejoice that she hit upon the Mars boys’ most popular weakness.

 

Afterwards, the culminating pleasure, without which our Christmas on board would be woefully incomplete, was eagerly awaited. At 6.30, the boys were all ready down below, but the broken ice, which had accumulated round the pier, was the cause of delaying for some minutes the boat loads of visitors. As soon as the latter, compromising the officers’ families and their friends, had been accommodated in the stalls, the Captain and party appeared, and thenceforth impatience in the gallery was appeased. On the curtain rising, the Band were seen to occupy the stage. Looking very smart, with their gleaming instruments, they were in splendid form, and played the opening march with snap and precision.

 

The Choir maintained their high repute, and sung their part-songs with superb effect. Mr Fyffe has a subtle way with him that seems to draw out the very best and sweetest from the juveniles at his disposal, and the resultant harmony is always appealing. Of their repertoire, “Hush a bye Baby” perhaps pleased the ear and touched the heart beyond all. Dancing has only recently been introduced, and is some novelty in the Mars. Three lively exhibitions of this nature proved the dominant attractions on the programme. With grace and easy gaiety, eight bonny laddies swung through the reel, whilst the impression produced was brimful of health and happiness, Two little sailor boys, in blue trousers with white caps and jumpers, accomplished the hornpipe in real fo’c’sle style, the various steps illustrating the rollicking spirit with pretty effect.

 

The Cake Walk was obviously “the hit” of the whole evening. On coming into view the couple fairly made one gasp. Attired in vividly bright coloured costumes – the one with tall hat, tail coat and cane, the other in sun bonnet, silk stockings and short skirt, revealing ample white frills and furbelows, with each successive high kick, a process which formed the main action of this fascinating coon display. The most apt description of this superlative extravaganza can best be conveyed by the modern young lady’s expression of rapture, “simply killing.” All three dances, and especially this last, were greeted with vociferous encores. Boy MacKay gave a clever exposition of a Frenchman at the telephone, whose difficulty of explaining himself in broken English, caused much laughter.

 

The red, white and blue scarves entwined provided appropriate colouring for the sash drill, which was performed to music, with accurate neatness. At one period during the evening a hub-bub behind the scenes for a moment gave rise to consternation amongst the audience, but they were as suddenly relieved when Mr Cameron appeared before the curtain and appealed to Mr Fyfe, occupying a seat in the front row, to come up and adjudicate as to who was the best elocutionist amongst several boys who were claiming the distinction. The inert reciters in turn proving hopeless, Mr Fyfe, himself, in his own inimitable style, showed, with exaggerated dramatic gesture and arm play, exactly how it should be done. Needless to add, this item was not on the programme – it was a secret turn, and provoked the greatest hilarity.

 

The marvellous mysteries of Professor Wallerendo – the Wonderful Wizard – were indeed perplexing. Officer Boy Waldron may be said to have created some sensation by his sleight of hand, and also as a thought reader. His dry humour between whiles was amusing, and well sustained his role. As illustrating the title of his selection, “The Toy Drum Major,” the smallest Band Boy, wearing white gauntlets, and wielding his huge staff of office, appeared from nowhere, and, usurping the position of the Bandmaster, produced his baton, and unconcernedly proceeded to conduct the musicians, whilst that august personage himself could be seen disconsolately beating the big drum in the boy’s stead. The cornet and the clarinet solos were distinctly good.

 

The play, entitled “The Sausage,” founded on an old European folk tale, was well acted by Boys Godliman as woodcutter, Chambers as his comely wife, with MacKay, making a quaint old man. The costumes and wigs increased the charm of these personalities from wonderland, whilst the scenery, depicting a cottage in the background – the clever handiwork of Mr Fyfe – created a perfect setting in keeping with the story unfolded by the young artistes. “Seein’ things at Night” scarcely allowed Boy Tunnah sufficient opportunity to do full justice to his talent. If all Jimmy told us was true, there must have been many sufferers from nightmare aboard the Mars on Friday, the 25th.

 

It was indeed a brilliant entertainment, well ordered, full of variety, and without a dull moment, and was perhaps the “best ever” produced in the old Ship. The whole went with a swing from beginning to end, and the very greatest credit reflects on every officer and boy concerned in its production… Cheers were given for the actors, the officers, and Miss Cuthbert (voluntary pianist, and Miss Rose the dancing teacher.) The Skipper, confessing himself in a boisterous mood, suggested three lusty ones for the Old Ship – “may she still serve our purpose and continue our habitation,” to which the boys responded with a vengeance.

 

Mr Cameron, having praised the Captain and Mrs Heathcote whilst alluding to their efforts for the lads, called upon the crew to give voice to his remarks. The echo – subsiding, the Captain returned thanks, and observed, “What pleases us most of all is the knowledge just proclaimed, that you care for us as much as we care for you.” After a day so crowded with happiness, the boys were ready to seek their rest, all tumbling into their hammocks – blissful and content.