Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Who Was Sidney Phillips and Why Did He Receive a Medal in Pelham Bay Park on August 1, 1918?


It is fun (and fascinating) to watch eBay for items related to Pelham history.  Each such item typically has a fascinating story behind it although sometimes it is difficult to uncover that story.  For example, see the fascinating story behind Bill Kilgour golf clubs that recently popped up on eBay, among many examples.  Fri., Feb 16, 2018:  What Do Bill Kilgour Golf Clubs Have to Do With Pelham History?

Currently, there is a beautiful, engraved, gold-filled medal offered for sale on eBay.  Engraved on the back is the following:


"-----
PELHAM NAVAL
-----
TRAINING CAMP
-----
HOME TALENT NIGHT
-----
1ST PRIZE
-----
AWARDED TO
-----
SIDNEY PHILLIPS
-----
AUG. 1ST 1918

-----"

Images of the obverse and reverse of the medal appear immediately below.  Obviously the engraving suggests a story that is simply too interesting to allow to pass. . . . . . Hence, today's Historic Pelham Blog article.



Obverse of Sidney Phillips Medal.  Dimensions:  1-1/2" Long
x 1-3/8" Wide.  Weight:  13.6 Grams.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.


Reverse of Sidney Phillips Medal.  Dimensions:  1-1/2" Long
x 1-3/8" Wide.  Weight:  13.6 Grams.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.

Few in Pelham may realize that there once was a massive U.S. Navy training base only steps away from the Pelham Manor border in Pelham Bay Park.  The facility opened during World War I on Rodman's Neck (also known as Pelham Neck) adjacent to City Island Road looking out over Long Island Sound and City Island.  Known as the Pelham Bay Naval Training Station, it opened on a 280-acre site that formerly was a National Guard base.  

The Naval Training Station featured a ninety-acre hospital, housing units and barracks, mess facilities, a station library, a steam laundry, a training ship (the USS Idalis), a host of training facilities, and -- important for purposes of this article -- major entertainment facilities provided by the Knights of Columbus, the Y.M.C.A. and other organizations (see below).

 The camp remained in operation until early 1919 (months after the War ended).  The curriculum involved up to four major aspects:  (1) a Probation Camp where new arrivals were held for 21 days in isolation -- particularly important during the influenza pandemic of 1918 when the camp suffered 2,399 cases of flue with 145 deaths; (2) a one-month "seamanship course"; (3) if qualified, three weeks of one of the following:  Petty Officer's School, Radio School, Quartermaster School, Gunnery School, or Boatswain Mate School; and (4) if qualified, two months of either Officers' Material School or Naval Auxiliary School.  See "Pelham Bay Naval Training Station" in Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (visited Apr. 21, 2018).  



High Resolution Image of Sanborn Map Company Map
of Facilities Located at the Pelham Bay Naval Training
Station.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

After the Naval Training Station closed, there was a movement to use the facility as a housing center for drug addicts.  Residents of City Island, among others, successfully fought the initiative which never came to fruition.  By 1922, the U.S. Navy dismantled virtually the entire camp, though some remnants still may be seen in the area today.

What about the Sidney Phillips medal shown above?  Sidney Phillips, it turns out, was a vaudeville performer who joined the Navy to fight in World War I.  One of the frequent entertainments held in the Pelham Bay Naval Training Station was a "Home Talent Show" in which Navy sailors performed for their compatriots with, apparently, an award at least for the first place winner.  On August 1, 1918, Sidney Phillips won such an award.

This story, however, does not end there.  The next day, the U.S. Navy announced that for the first time in its history it planned to create a six-man entertainment unit of performers who would travel to U.S. Naval camps and also travel aboard ships crossing the Atlantic to entertain U.S. Navy sailors.  Five of the six planned entertainers were named, including Sidney Phillips.  A search followed to name a pianist / accompanist as the sixth member of the group.

*          *          *          *          *

"NAVY OFFICIALLY SELECTS NOVEL SAILOR SHOW TO TRAVEL
-----
Six Enlisted Men at Pelham Bay Camp Will Form Bill of Entertainers to Amuse Sailors on Board and Ashore.  First Show of Its Kind Reported  Recommended by An Admiral.
-----

Officially selected and approved six enlisted sailors at the Pelham Bay Naval Training Station in New York City have been formed into an entertaining unit by the order of an admiral, according to report.  The men selected are former professionals -- Johnnie Ford, George Lane, 'Buck' Mack, Bob Fisher, Sidney Phillips, with one more to be named.

The sextet compose the first program of its kind ever formed in the service over here.  They will travel together and arrange their own program.  They expected to be aboard ships going across the ocean as often as they are detailed to visit the several naval camps.  

The entertainers may file a requisition for a piano player to be included in the group.  It is said they would like to have Frank Westphal, who is also an enlisted sailor, assigned to them.

Each of the sailors included in the group could give an individual continuous entertainment of 20 minutes or longer.  They expect to organize among themselves, devise turns of 'singles,' 'two-acts,' and 'trios,' concluding their performance with an ensemble number, although the precise routine has not been decided upon.

Following the recommendation and approval of the formation of the official playing sailor program the men were given five days' leave of absence, with orders to report Aug. 2 for assignment.

Each of the sailor entertainers has gone through the training period and expects to continue the studies in navigation in the expectancy that they may attain a junior officer's rank.

The Irving Berlin show from Camp Upton, containing men in the Service now stationed there and which is to appear at the Century may be the means of the War Department deciding that some of its players are to go to France as soldier-entertainers, it was said this week, after the Berlin show ends its engagement."

Source:  NAVY OFFICIALLY SELECTS NOVEL SAILOR SHOW TO TRAVEL -- Six Enlisted Men at Pelham Bay Camp Will Form Bill of Entertainers to Amuse Sailors on Board and Ashore.  First Show of Its Kind Reported  Recommended by An Admiral, Variety, Aug. 2, 1918, Vol. LI, No. 10, p. 1, col. 1.  



Real Photo Postcard With Image of Sailors at the Pelham Bay
Naval Training Station, Dated May 7, 1918.  NOTE:  Click on
Image to Enlarge.


"A Review at the United States Naval Training Station, Pelham Bay
Park" in 1918.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.


"A review at Pelham Bay Park Naval Training Station."
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.


"U.S. NAVAL TRAINING STATION.  PELHAM BAY PARK, N. Y.
Petty Officers' School on a Hike."  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.


"U.S. NAVAL TRAINING STATION.  PELHAM BAY PARK, N. Y.
Leaving Main Camp for a Hike."  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.


"TRAINING THE NAVAL RESERVES AT PELHAM BAY NAVAL TRAINING
STATION, N. Y."  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.


Various Images of the Pelham Bay Naval Training Station in Pelham
Bay Park in 1918.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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