ABOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER ABRAHAM LINCOLN — Nearly 200 sailors from the Royal Navy’s flattop Queen Elizabeth ate their first Thanksgiving feast onboard this American carrier in Norfolk.

Although it’s celebrated widely by Americans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the British sailors were delighted to learn that its roots began with pilgrims from their country who gave thanks for their survival in a new world.

“This is my first Thanksgiving meal ever and I’ll have to say that I’m pretty impressed with all the food,” said Engineering Technician Sam Rigley , who dined on the Lincoln’s aft mess decks with four of his mates from the Queen Elizabeth.

“This is such a good idea. I’m thinking we need to bring his holiday home and start our own tradition back home. But tell me, what’s bigger? Thanksgiving or Christmas?”

Lincoln’s skipper, Capt. Putnam H. Browne, greeted the Brits on the hangar deck, giving them a brief history of the holiday, explaining its roots with the early English colonists, before pointing them to a galley that prepped 600 pounds of turkey, enough for the 250 American sailors on duty and their Queen Elizabeth guests.

U.S. Navy Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Ben Preal serves turkey to Cmdr. Darren Houston, executive officer of the British carrier Queen Elizabeth. (photo by Mark D. Faram/staff)
U.S. Navy Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Ben Preal serves turkey to Cmdr. Darren Houston, executive officer of the British carrier Queen Elizabeth. (photo by Mark D. Faram/staff)

“It’s only fitting that we are hosting you on this day because it was President Abraham Lincoln who first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, “Browne told his guests. “Knowing you are away from your families today, when we saw you pull in last week, we decided to see if we could invite you over for dinner.”

It took the Pentagon’s blessing to make it happen and Browne appreciated that it only took about a week to get the approval.

“I hope it doesn’t sound cliché, but I’m really grateful to the ship and the U.S. Navy for extending this invitation to us,” said the Queen Elizabeth’s Lt. Cmdr. Sammy Haynes. “It’s my first Thanksgiving.”

In the United States for the past 3 1/2 months, Haynes and his shipmates said they’ll be happy to be home for Christmas. They’re slated to depart for the United Kingdom’s Portsmouth next week.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in grand style has long been a U.S. Navy tradition

In 1907, the crew of the battleship Kentucky were treated to oyster soup, crackers, roast turkey, giblet gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce, celery, sliced Smithfield ham, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, green peas, mince pies, ice cream, fruit cake, apple, bananas, grapes, coffee, mixed nuts and raisins.

And after somehow ingesting all that, they topped it off with cigars, cigarettes and cider.

After the Nov. 8, 1942 landings in North Africa, the cooks onboard the flagship Augusta named their dishes after Operation Torch’s commanders and the battles they fought.

They started with the Cream of Tomato Soup a la Casablanca as an appetizer but the centerpiece of the feast was the Chicken and Turkey en Casserole a la Hewitt, an homage to Rear Adm. Henry Hewitt, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Northwest Africa Waters onboard the cruiser.

Tucked inside the menu was a brief description of why the Augusta’s crew was so thankful.

“In its five engagements, one against a shore battery and four against enemy naval forces, the ship rendered a good account of itself and contributed in a large degree to the final defeat of the opposing forces and the establishing of a second front in North Africa,” it read. "In the course of each engagement the ship was subjected to accurate and heavy fire by the opposing forces. And yet, although bracketed many times by the projectiles of the enemy, the ship miraculously escaped without damage in herself or injury to the crew.

“It should be apparent to all that consistent escape from harm was due not alone to skill, or to good luck, but unquestionably to the intervention of divine providence. Therefore it is with especial gratitude this Thanksgiving Day that the officers and crew of the Augusta join in this traditional celebration.”

The cooks gave a nod to the Army with a side dish, Chantilly Potatoes a la Patton, named for the Western Task Force commander Gen. George S. Patton.

Worldwide, the Navy Supply Systems Command in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, estimates that culinary specialists will serve 112,000 pounds of roast turkey, 21,000 pounds of stuffing, 27,100 pounds of mashed potatoes, 18,500 ponds of sweet potatoes, 5,400 pounds of cranberry sauce and a mere 2,300 gallons of gravy on Thursday.

NAVSUP’s press release, however, made no mention of oyster soup or cigars.