Capt. Clifford Stewart, USN,–The Boys of Arctic Summer/The White Sea league
Capt. Clifford Stewart, USN,–The Boys of Arctic Summer/The White Sea league
Capt. Stewart was an enlisted member of the crew of the “City of Omaha” transport ship during the 2nd World War. After delivering their cargo to Murmansk, above The Arctic Cir., East of Norway, the ship became stranded in the port Molotovosk in March, 1943. They ultimately were left in this area for 9 months, finally being escorted out in November of that year.
During those 9 months they had little to do as they were safe from German attack and were in close proximity to Russian troops who would train near the area where the boats had been stranded. For lack of activities, the 4 ships decided to form a baseball league, with a team representing each ship. The 4 teams made up the White Sea League. They manufactured their own equipment, including bats turned from local trees, and balls made from shoe leather, rubber heels, and string. They had 2 seasons and ultimately played a World Series game with the winner from each season meeting for a playoff game. He brought with him one of the balls that they had manufactured as well as a bat that is signed by the members of each team. Both the ball and the bat have been selected as part of the display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The White See League, as it was called kept the sailors busy and generated a great deal of gambling.
Capt. Stewart's presentation emphasized the struggles that he faced during the Great Depression. His father ultimately left the family of 6 children because he was unable to help care for them, leaving his mother to raise them along with the help of other people in the community. Stewart had a lifelong interest in learning and attended the local elementary school with approximately 100 students and 2 teachers. High school was 10 miles from his home and he would hitch rides, occasionally ride his horse, to get to and from school. The most interesting experience of his high school years was spending the last year with a Pentecostal preacher. He said the knees of his pants wore out from having to pray with every event that occurred.
He began working when he was 10 years old, starting a paper route, doing farm work, and ultimately collecting and selling items to the travelers on the trains that would come through his town. He reported that he was probably the wealthiest person in the town at age 10 or 11, but lost all of his savings when the banks folded. He worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, being stationed in California and ultimately went to both San Jose State and Chico State where he earned a degree. He enlisted in the Navy and left boot camp in San Diego as a signal man. He ultimately ended up on the convoy that left him stranded in Russia.
He did not have much time to talk about his baseball experiences other than to say that they were greatly satisfying and occupied a great deal of their time. He played shortstop and was a reasonable hitter.
This talk was inspirational for showing the grit and tenacity that helped him through the Great Depression, and also helped him to become an officer in the United States Navy were he served until 1974. He lives in Healdsburg and has an 16 acre ranch with both fruit and nut trees on it.
Photographs of the ball and the bat are present on the Club's website for those who were unable to attend the meeting, or who did not have an opportunity to handle these artifacts at the time of the presentation.
A donation to the Healdsburg Food Pantry was made on his behalf by the Rotary Club in recognition of his presentation.