The wardroom was the officers’ mess where we dined, watched movies, socialized, and played games such as cribbage, acey-deucey, and bridge. Musical moments were many. A piano was available in the wardroom for our use and combos from the ship’s band frequently entertained us at dinner.
There were approximately 150 officers using the facility. We sat at long tables, always in order of seniority. At mealtime you were not permitted to be late. If you could not make it on time, you waited for the second sitting or went without the meal. We arrived at our places and remained standing until the President of the Mess, usually the ship’s Executive Officer, arrived. We sat after grace was spoken by one of our chaplains and after the senior officer present had seated himself. The tables were set with white linen damask tablecloths, with linen napkins in engraved or numbered silver napkin rings, silver flatware, Navy blue and white china, and silver candlesticks. Even silver finger bowls were used when we were served messy finger food. We were Old World formal! The stewards in white starched aprons brought the food on silver trays to each of us, serving from the left and allowing us to take what we wanted. Nothing was placed on the table to be passed. Coffee and tea were brought to us and served from silver servers.
After the meals, the tables were cleared and the tablecloths replaced with green felt table covers with gold piping. The officers were then free to play at the preferred games until movie time. Movies were shown each evening and on Sunday afternoon from 35mm projectors from the starboard side of the wardroom. The movie screen was a sheet hung from the beam in the center of the overhead (ceiling). The projection could be seen on both sides of the sheet. The junior officers had to sit behind the screen and watch the movies backwards. It was interesting to see a baseball game from the backside of the screen and watch the batter hit the ball and run for third base. Whenever a letter came up on the screen crucial to the plot, we yelled out “Read it please, Sirs.” Rank had its privileges.
Lieutenant (jg) Tracy Wilder, F Division Officer
Why is it called the Wardroom?
In the 1700s the British Navy had a compartment on ships called the “wardrobe,” which was used for storing prizes of war. When empty, officers gathered there for dining and lounging. By the time the United States created its Navy in 1775, it was known as the “wardroom.” A “mess” is a Navy term for a group of people gathered together to eat.
During World War II officers gathered in this Wardroom to:
- Eat meals
- Play games
- Enjoy entertainment
- Have meetings
- Censor Mail
- Conduct courts martial
“Above all it reminded us that in spite of the fact that we were engaged in a very tough and brutal war, we were still gentlemen, accustomed to live like civilized human beings.”
Capt. Ben Blee, USN (ret.)
Wardroom Blueprint, 1941
This drawing shows that the wardroom is a large space covering almost the ship’s entire width. The space has a dining area and an adjacent lounge. Four large table groupings sat 104 officers. Other items in the room included transoms (couches), sideboards, lounge chairs, coffee tables, cigar lockers, and a piano. A dumbwaiter brought food from the officers’ galley one deck below into the officers’ pantry next to the wardroom.
Wardroom, August 1941
Meals in the wardroom were formal, especially when compared to meals served to the enlisted men below in the mess decks. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, some formalities were given up. However, officers strove to maintain the traditions of a formal mess throughout the war.
A Feast Fit for an Officer
Unlike enlisted men, officers paid for their food. The monthly bill averaged about $30, or 10-20% of their salary. In a typical day, officers could dine on:
- Breakfast: fruit juice, eggs (any style), bacon
- Lunch: Hamburger steaks, French fries, salad, brownies, Koolaid
- Supper: Baked lamb, potatoes with gravy, peas, salad, celery and olives, bread and butter, and milk. Supper in the wardroom consisted of 3 courses, including soup, desert and coffee.
One officer described the food as “almost gourmet.” Wardroom invoices indicate that even such lavish items as oyster forks, pickle/celery dishes, sherbet glasses, and bon-bon dishes were used.
When conditions allowed, a combo of musicians from the ship’s band gathered in the wardroom to play music while the officers ate dinner. They played popular times from the day, including the big band sounds of Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, and Tommy Dorsey. Officers also played the piano between meals.
“Each time I play “Sentimental Journey,” I remember the Wardroom Combo playing that song all the way back from Japan, through the Panama Canal, enroute to Boston transporting thousands of GIs and Marines home.”
Silver Marks the Spot
Officers sat according to both rank and seniority, which was engraved on their silver-plated napkin ring. The highest-ranking officer in the wardroom, the Executive Officer, served as President of the Mess. The Captain dined in his cabin, and only dined in the wardroom when invited.
A Floating Gentleman’s Club
“The wardroom is your home on board ship. Make it as pleasant as you would your own home. It is also your club, where you may gather with your shipmates for moments of relaxation, a discussion of daily problems, or just a game of acey-deucey over coffee.”
The Naval Officer’s Guide (1943)
Between meals the wardroom was “the community center for officers,” recalled Cmdr. Almon Oliver, USN (ret.) “Coffee was always available, sometimes chocolate. It was where we censored mail, [played] games such as checkers, cards, etc., [held] meetings, briefings, etc.” In the wardroom “lifelong friendships were made among the officers,” noted Col. J.A. Bruder, USMC (ret.)
Coffee was available in the wardroom 24 hours a day. The ship’s newspaper reported in August 1942, that the “prevalence of excessive coffee drinking, especially in officers’ messes is common knowledge.”