Christmas in Connecticut: Chief Quartermaster Jones
Dennis Morgan as Jefferson Jones, U.S. Navy Chief Quartermaster and war hero
Connecticut, Christmas 1944
Film: Christmas in Connecticut
Release Date: August 11, 1945
Director: Peter Godfrey
Something about a naval uniform always reminds me of the holidays. Maybe it’s the happy homecoming of the heroic Commander Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, or maybe it’s the charming naval hero in Christmas in Connecticut who finds himself instantly falling for Barbara Stanwyck (relatable enough) after he arrives on her doorstep to spend a memorable holiday in New England.
Christmas in Connecticut is breezy, funny, and classic holiday entertainment in the spirit of the optimistic post-World War II zeitgeist. Barbara Stanwyck and Sydney Greenstreet take a break from their recent run of sinister roles – hers in Double Indemnity and his in, well, anything he’s done – as food writer Elizabeth Lane and her domineering editor Alexander Yardley, respectively. Like his magazine’s readers, Mr. Yardley believes Elizabeth to be the perfect homemaker and invites himself to her fictitious Connecticut farm to spend the holidays with her equally fictitious husband and baby.
Of course, Elizabeth – the single New Yorker who just likes her cushy writing gig for the chance to wear a mink coat – can’t even properly flip a flapjack.
Elizabeth’s situation is complicated when Yardley invites a war hero who turns out to be the charismatic Jefferson Jones, played by Dennis Morgan, who was born 110 years ago yesterday. The potential “catastroph!” twists at every turn as neither the faux-homemaker nor the dashing Navy hero can resist falling for the other.
As feel-good fun released shortly after the United States was out of World War II, Christmas in Connecticut quickly recouped its budget to gross more than $3 million at the box office, making it one of the top movies of 1945 and certainly a more uplifting one than The Bells of St. Mary’s, the year’s top-grossing film, which was released just before Christmas.
What’d He Wear?
Barbara Stanwyck and Sydney Greenstreet may have been playing against type, but Dennis Morgan had just enjoyed the biggest role of his career as a U.S. Army Air Force colonel in God is My Co-Pilot (1945) and Warner Brothers was likely eager to get the popular actor back into a military uniform for his next performance. Thus, Morgan’s naval officer Jefferson Jones spends the majority of his screen time, after his discharge from the military hospital, wearing the timeless blue service dress uniform, designated “Service Dress, Blue, A”.
In March 1919, shortly after World War I, Uniform Change 27 authorized the double-breasted reefer jacket that U.S. Navy officers wear to this day, replacing the single-breasted fly-front coat that had been first authorized in 1877. The update was inspired by the tunics worn by British Royal Navy officers as well as a reflection of the evolution of civilian menswear and business dress. (Read more about the history and evolution of the U.S. Navy uniforms here.)
Quartermaster Jones thus arrives at Elizabeth Lane’s “home” in the winter-friendly service dress uniform constructed in dark navy wool serge, 16-ounce weight. The double-breasted reefer jacket has eight gilt buttons with four to button in a straight, rectangular layout. As Jones’ Chief Petty Officer (CPO) rank places him among the enlisted rather than commissioned officers, the 28-line buttons are slightly smaller than those on commissioned officers’ jackets, though a regulation immediately after the war would increase CPO reefer jacket and overcoat button sizes to 35-line and 40-line, respectively, to match those of commissioned and warrant officers.
The ventless jacket has straight peak lapels, welted hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket, which his ribbon row is placed directly above.
Jeffy Boy introduces himself to Elizabeth as “Quartermaster Jones,” consistent with the pre-1949 practice of U.S. Navy enlisted service members identifying themselves by occupational type, which was also denoted by the placement of one’s rank insignia with Seaman branch ratings worn only on the right sleeve – as we see with Jones – and non-seamen wearing theirs on the left sleeve only.
The practice of members of the Seaman branch wearing their rank insignia on only their right sleeves was established in 1841 while other ratings were worn only on the left sleeve. This was still in practice a century later during World War II for petty officers with the occupations Boatswain’s Mate, Fire Controlman, Gunners Mate, Mineman, Signalman, Torpedoman’s Mate, Turret Captain, or Quartermaster like our pal Jones. The practice was disestablished on April 2, 1949, and – as of December 2018 – all Chiefs across all occupations wear their rank insignia only on their left sleeves.
Jones’ insignia consists of three red chevrons topped by a single red rocker with a white embroidered eagle perched on the rocker and a white embroidered ship’s wheel between the chevrons and the rocker. The three chevrons and single rocker indicate his Chief Petty Officer rank while the ship’s wheel indicates his occupation in the Seaman branch, leading us to the conclusion that Jones’ correct ratingis that of Chief Quartermaster (CQM). (Read more about World War II-era U.S. Navy ranks and insignia here.)
Jones’ rank is easily enough to discern, though his medals require some deeper investigation. I’m no military historian, but I looked at all three of his service ribbons from varying angles and – even without the benefit of color to help identify them – I think I have an idea of the three he is wearing, though the third poses more of a mystery. (See more U.S. Navy awards/ribbons here.)
From left to right:
- China Service Medal: Established on August 23, 1940, by Navy Department General Order No. 135, this medal was awarded for qualifying U.S. Navy service between the inclusive dates of July 7, 1937, and September 7, 1939, subsequently extended to include service rendered between September 2, 1945, to April 1, 1957. If this is the case, it would imply that Jones’ service dates back to the late 1930s, before U.S. entry into World War II.
- Description: Golden yellow ribbon with a single red stripe toward each end
- American Defense Service Medal: Established on June 28, 1941, by FDR’s Executive Order 8808, this medal was awarded for qualifying active service in the American armed forces between September 8, 1939, and December 7, 1941… aka up to two years leading up to World War II. Unlike the China Service Medal, it was available to service members across all branches, though U.S. Army members had to serve 12 months to be eligible while Navy and Marine Corps members were eligible based on any length of service. This solidifies the theory that Jones has been an active member of the U.S. Navy since before World War II. Per the standard order of display, this would follow the China Service Medal as it does on Jones’ jacket.
- Description: Golden yellow ribbon with a two sets of thin 1/8″-wide tri-parted stripes toward each end – blue/white/red on the left and red/white/blue on the right – each separated from the ends by a 3/16″-wide golden yellow edge stripe and a 3/4″-wide center stripe. The colors are technically the dark “Old Glory blue” and scarlet red.
- Jones wears two bronze service stars on this ribbon, here correctly worn in lieu of fleet clasps for service on the high seas.
- American Theater Campaign Medal: Established on November 6, 1942, by FDR’s Executive Order 9265, this medal was awarded for service within the American Theater beginning December 7, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. The medal was last awarded on March 2, 1946.
- Description: “Oriental blue” ribbon with a 1/8″-wide center stripe in Old Glory blue, white, and scarlet, plus sets of 1/16″-wide stripes in white, black, scarlet, and white to represent the German and Japanese enemies engaged in conflict, respectively.
Consistent with the Navy’s desire for its service uniform to reflect the trends in men’s everyday business attire, the prescribed shirt for blue service dress is a plain white cotton shirt – with a soft, turndown collar and non-flapped breast pocket – to be worn with a “plain black” woven silk tie, knotted four-in-hand. Jones’ shirt and tie follows all regulations, while the shirt’s point collar and the tie’s wide blade reflect the predominant fashion of the mid-1940s.
Jones’ dark navy flat front trousers match the reefer jacket. They have side pockets, jetted back pockets, and belt loops for his black leather belt with – we can assume – a gold-plated brass single-prong buckle. Navy uniform regulations issued in 1922 dictated black grain leather belts “of best quality”, but the service has since adopted cotton web belts for service dress uniforms.
“Black shoes, high or low Oxford, shall be laced, of black leather, and shall be worn when blue trousers are prescribed,” reads the same 1922 regulations on U.S. Navy uniforms. Jones’ dark lace-ups indeed appear to be black calf cap-toe oxfords, worn with dark socks. Black and white were the only colors of socks authorized for Navy service members, so we can assume that Jones’ socks are also black.
The snowy New England winter calls for a heavy coat and gloves. The Navy authorized gloves to be “iron gray… made of suede, lisle, or silk thread”, though Jones appears to be wearing a pair of black or charcoal gloves made from a heavier knit fabric.
Jones also wears a warm bridge coat, essentially an overcoat-length pea coat that extends to his knees. After its popularity as naval outerwear, the bridge coat style was appropriated for civilian fashions. In fact, James Bond (Daniel Craig) wore a bridge coat in Spectre that was nearly identical to the one worn by Dennis Morgan’s naval hero in Christmas in Connecticut, right down to the eight non-gilt buttons and lack of epaulettes, though the back belt of 007’s coat had a decorative button on each end.
Jones’ double-breasted coat is likely made from a heavy, 30-ounce dark navy Kersey wool that was used for much U.S. Navy outerwear throughout the 20th century.
The double-breasted coat has eight horn buttons in two parallel columns of four buttons each, meant to be worn with all four buttons on the right fastened. There are two additional buttons on the underside of each collar that connect to buttonholes on the lapels. It has slanted hand pockets, a half-belted back with a single vent, and raglan sleeves with plain cuffs devoid of buttons, tabs, or any other adjustment mechanism.
Both blue and white caps were authorized for commissioned, warrant, and chief petty officers, though winter often meant the blue cap was most frequently seen. The blue peaked “combination cap” is made with a stiff dark navy 16-ounce broadcloth cover, a black patent leather strap across the front attached to a 22-line gilt button at each end, and a black patent leather visor. Pinned directly to the front of the cap is a gold-plated brass fouled anchor device with the letters “U.S.N.” in sterling silver, fastened midway on the anchor shank.
Jones wears a leather-strapped wristwatch with a light round dial on his left wrist.
If you’d like to know the U.S. Navy uniform regulations at the time of World War II, check out this comprehensive 1922 volume issued by the Department of the Navy. If you’re curious about the variety of uniforms worn by U.S. Navy enlisted members and officers during World War II, read more here.
To read the modern specifications for a male Chief Petty Officer’s Service Dress Blue uniform, check out the official U.S. Navy regulations here or the history of CPO uniforms here.
Although Christmas in Connecticut makes no secret of its holiday setting, the central song has nary a jingling bell or roasting chestnut. With music by M.K. Jerome and lyrics by Mack Scholl, “The Wish That I Wish Tonight” became a considerable hit for 1945 with versions recorded by Ray Noble and his Orchestra (with vocalist Trudy Irwin), Jo Stafford, and the Duke Ellington orchestra.
However, Dennis Morgan’s booming tenor does offer a heck of a job with the Christmas standard “O Little Town of Bethlehem” while Elizabeth trims the tree.
“Nice voice, that boy,” notes Yardley. It’s so entrancing, in fact, that a distracted Elizabeth drops the massive ornament she was holding. It isn’t until she insists that he keeps playing that he shifts gears from Christmas carols to the wistful “The Wish That I Wish Tonight”.
CQM Jones’ Uniform
The U.S. Navy’s “Service Dress, Blue A” was introduced at the end of World War I and has remained relatively unchanged for a century of American conflict. The fitted, military cut of both the uniform and the bridge coat would have made Jefferson Jones seem very dashing to magazine writers and military hospital nurses alike.
- Dark navy wool serge double-breasted U.S. Navy service dress reefer jacket with eight gilt buttons (four to button), welted breast pocket, welted hip pockets, and ventless back
- Chief Quartermaster (CQM) insignia on right upper-arm sleeve
- Three service ribbons in single row above breast pocket
- Dark navy wool serge U.S. Navy service dress trousers with flat front, belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton shirt with point collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Black woven silk tie
- Black grain leather belt with brass-plated gold single-prong buckle
- Black calf leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Black socks
- Dark navy peaked combination cap with black patent leather visor and fouled anchor “U.S.N.” device
- Dark navy Kersey wool double-breasted 8×4-button bridge coat with side pockets, raglan sleeves, half-belted back, and single vent
- Wristwatch on leather strap
So you like the look but you’re not in the Navy? Easy enough! Swap out the uniform for a navy double-breasted blazer and charcoal trousers, and add a colorful flourish with a festive red pocket square.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie… and make sure it’s this 1945 version. A remake was made in the early 1990s with Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson, and Tony Curtis, directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, of all people. While Arnie may have hit holiday gold with Jingle All the Way, this particular story was best left to the originals.
I’m as free as a bird!
Thank you for this delightful and detailed piece. Thoroughly enjoyed it!