6 FIELD ENGINEER SQUADRON – THE MESS DINNER
1. This memorandum outlines the customs and practices of the 6 Engineer Squadron Combined Mess during a Mess Dinner. By the Mess Constitution there are three set dinners being the D-Day Dinner, the Men’s Mess Dinner, and the Squadron Sergeant Majors Dinner, and there are any number of other dinners that take place during a year.
2. Mess dinners originated about 200 years ago, the purpose being the same then as it is now; to afford the opportunity for seniors and juniors to meet on a friendly but formal occasion. The traditional formality of the dinner fosters a fellowship which would be lacking at less formal functions. Engineer mess dinners have a long standing custom of “no speeches” and are scheduled to enjoy each others company or to highlight an occasion.
3. The Officer Commanding (OC) may direct mess dinners be held to honour officers retiring from the Squadron, to celebrate an historical occasion or to extend hospitality to visitors or other dignitaries.
4. Squadron mess dinners will be organized by a the chair of the Entertainment Committee of the Mess. He/She with the assistance of the Committee will be responsible for overall coordination and administrative arrangements. This will include the dates and times, issuing invitations, preparing a seating plan, musical program, menu and wine selection, selection of individuals to present the various toasts, and arranging activities that are to follow the dinner. Mess dinners are of necessity self-supporting, hence it is the responsibility of the Entertainment Committee to ensure that appropriate accounting procedures are followed. This includes collecting the price of the dinner and paying the bills. The Mess Committee Treasurer will ensure that all appropriate steps are followed to assist the Entertainment Committee Chair.
5. President of the Mess Committee (PMC). The Mess Committee PMC is the will act in that role during the dinner; if he/she is absent the OC will designate someone to fill the role. If an Annex of the Mess is hosting a dinner the Annex Representative will act as PMC for that Dinner.
6. Vice PMC. – The V/PMC of the Mess Committee will act in that role during the dinner; if he/she is absent the PMC will designate someone to fill that role. If an Annex of the Mess is hosting a dinner the Annex Representative appointed as PMC will direct a V/PMC for that Dinner.
7. It will be normal for guests to be invited to Squadron Mess dinners other than those specified in the Constitution to be restricted to certain Members. The D-Day Dinner is reserved to all Mess Members and Associates; the Men’s Mess Dinner is reserved to Officers and Senior NCM’s; and the SSM’s Dinner is reserved to Ordinary Members. For all other Dinners all Officers retired from the Canadian Forces in the area, as well as the Mayors of the Area, and Ordinary Members of other Militia Messes can be invited as guests. All guests at the dinner are the guests of all Members, and it is the responsibility of those in attendance to see that the guests are entertained and not left to fend for themselves.
8. The announcement of a mess dinner is normally made by the Mess Secretary who can announce it in Routine Orders, by email to the known email addresses of Mess Members, and by personal invitations in the post. The Mess Membership Committee will maintain a list of addresses and email accounts for this purpose. Invitations may also be extended, as directed by the OC, more broadly to a wider group of guests on occasion.
9. The dress for mess dinners will be included in the invitations. For serving members it will be Mess Dress No. 2 or No. 2b; for other Members it will be mess dress, evening dress or dinner jacket and for civilians it will be evening dress or dinner jacket.
10. Guests assemble in the lounge one-half hour prior to the published time for dinner. In the Squadron Mess this lounge is the east portion of the Mess which is separated from the west Portion by the bar and washrooms. This pre-dinner gathering is to enable members to meet and entertain guests, have a pre-dinner drink and ascertain their position at the table from the seating plan located in the foyer or at the entrance to the dining room. The guest list should be checked and if a guest is seated on your right you should assume that person to be your personal guest, seek him or her out and get acquainted before the dinner. If it is his or her first mess dinner, then you should familiarize him or her with the dinner’s procedures and customs.
11. It is common courtesy to acknowledge the arrival of the Commanding Officer and other senior officers by coming to attention and if an officer arrives after the Senior Officer, he is expected to make his apologies to the PMC.
12. Today, it is not permissible to smoke anywhere within the building. Members and guests who use nicotine must now smoke outside and should inform the PMC where they can be found if needed. Members now may place money on their account at the bar if they anticipate requesting a drink from the bar during dinner.
13. At 15 minutes to dining, the Mess bell will sound “Quarter Call”; and at five minutes to dining, the Mess bell will sound “Assemble”. These calls are to remind everyone that dinner is about to be served, and also to permit personnel to prepare themselves for a lengthy dinner period. The doors to the west portion of the Mess are opened.
14. At the appointed hour the band (if one is present) will play “Roast Beef of Old England” at which time under normal circumstances the PMC will escort the senior guest of honour into the dining room. Members who have a guest seated on their right should escort that guest into dinner and should ensure that he or she is entertained after dinner until he or she departs.
15. Members will follow the PMC, and guests to the dining room. Usually Members enter the dining room by seniority.
16. The OC 6 will occupy the senior position at the head of the table with the PMC located to his right at the end of the table and the V/PMC seated at the bottom left of whatever table configuration is used. Customarily a “E” configuration is laid out by placing tables for dining. If the CO 39CER is in attendance he will be seated at the head table in the senior position.
The Organizer, the Chair of the Entertainment Committee or a designate, will arrange the seating plan for the remainder of the attendees and Members are not to change the seating plan.
17. After arrival at their places, officers and guests will stand behind their chairs. When all diners are present, the PMC will call upon the chaplain, if present, or a designated member to say Grace. On completion of Grace, all diners will sit down by pulling their chairs to the right and seating themselves from the left.
18. The dinner consists of several courses. It is considered mess etiquette not to begin eating until the person on your right has been served, except that diners seated at the head table will take their lead from the senior officer.
The following points should be noted as traditions in the Mess:
a.. There are no side plates and no butter is served – a reflection of shortages in earlier days
c. Bread is not served, but a bun may be served and is placed to the left of the sitting.
d. Salt and pepper is not served.
19. At the conclusion of the meal, all china, glasses (except the toasting glass), table decorations, napkin, etc., are removed from the table and the port decanters placed thereon.
The PMC will then remove the stopper, pour a partial glass, sample it, and pass the decanter to his left (ie. to port). The decanter DOES NOT touch the table – a reflection of the rough tables in use in earlier days. All other decanters placed at other tables (if so assembled) will be passed to the left, with each diner charging his or her own glass. The V/PMC follows the lead of the PMC in all respects. When a decanter arrives in front of the PMC or V/PMC, he is to charge his glass. The port glass is not touched until the Loyal Toast. When all decanters have been passed and have reached their assigned destination the PMC will then “stop” his decanter and the V /PMC will follow suit. Should a Member not wish to drink port, water may be requested.
20. The Loyal Toast ; “The Loyal Toast is conducted as follows:
a. The PMC will then tap for silence, rise and addressing- the V/PMC will say “Mr. Vice, the Queen of Canada” or “Mr. Vice, the Queen our Colonel in Chief”. Mr. Vice may be addressed in French in the following manner, “Monsieur le Vice President, la Reine du Canada”, or “Monsieur le Vice President, la Reine notre Colonel en Chef”.
b. The V/PMC will then rise and addressing the diners will propose the toast as designated by the PMC. Note that if the PMC addresses the V/PMC in English, Mr. Vice will reply in French or vice-versa. Should ladies be present at the dinner, Mr. Vice will ensure that they are recognized in the salutation prior to the toast. ie. “Ladies and Gentlemen” or “Mesdames et Messieurs” as appropriate.
c. If a band is in attendance, everyone will rise and, leaving the glasses on the table, will stand at attention while the first six bars of “God Save the Queen” are played. Then all diners will raise their glasses and repeat the toast in English or French according to preference, and immediately drink to Her health. Senior officers may add “God Bless Her” if they so wish.
d: If no band is in attendance and “God Save the Queen” is not played once the V/PMC has given his response, all diners will rise, pick up their glasses, repeat the toast in the language preferred and then immediately drink to Her health.
21. Other Toasts
a. The Corps Toast – The Corps Toast is conducted as follows:
The PMC will invite the CO, if present or if not, the senior Engineer officer to propose the toast to the Corps. The person making the toast will then rise. They will then invite all present to rise and join him in a toast to the Royal Canadian Engineers.
b. If a band is in attendance, everyone will rise while the band plays the opening bars of “Wings” after which all diners will raise their glasses say “Chimo” and immediately drink to the Corps. The engineering greeting or toast of “Chimo” is derived from the Inuit tribe in the Arctic where the word means “friendly”. It was adapted by the Corps from its extensive participation in the development of the Arctic.
22. At 6 Field Engineer Squadron on most occasions a toast will be made to the unit by the senior guest or a designated member. The procedure follows closely to that of the toast to the Corps.
23. A short period of time, about 5 minutes, must be allowed between toasts to allow the port glasses to be recharged should this be necessary.
FOLLOWING THE TOASTS
24. Diners will seat themselves following the toasts and conversation may resume. Coffee will then be served and liqueurs offered. The senior officer may invite the Bandmaster, if present, and Chef or Head of the Catering Staff to join him at the head table for a drink. Whether or not this or similar procedures are followed during the dinner, the PMC will arrange that the appreciation of all diners is extended to the band and the mess staff-in an appropriate manner sometime during the evening.
25. If a band is in attendance, the authorized march of those present may then be played. When all Members that are present are Military Engineers the full playing of “Wings” will take place during the Branch toast instead of only the opening bars being played as described in paragraph 21.b.
The order of playing is as follows:
regimental march of the guest of honour
b. regimental march of all present in order of branch regimental seniority, and
c. march of the host branch.
26. There should be no speeches at the mess dinner, however, the PMC may permit them at this time should the need arise as in presentations on retirement.
27. Indication that the dinner is officially over is given by the senior officer standing up until noticed by all diners. If the senior officer and guests of honour leave immediately, it is customary for the Members to stand until they have left the room. The PMC will accompany the official guests to the lounge while the V/PMC remains with those diners who wish to finish their port.
AFTER DINNER ENTERTAINMENT
28. Following the dinner, the Members retire to the ante- room or lounge, where drinks may be purchased from the bar. Most dinners are followed by a program of entertainment or games; this is the most relaxed part of the evening, affording an opportunity for all Members to become better acquainted. Members should not leave the mess until the senior officer and the senior guests have left. If an officer is required to leave before this time, he should first pay his respects to the PMC.
MIXED FORMAL DINNER
29. On occasions, mixed formal dinners are held. There is no difference in procedure from a
mess dinner, except that at a mixed formal dinner a Member will not escort their spouse or guest into the dining room, but rather he will escort the guest to be seated on their right and will take her in on their right arm, as indicated on the seating plan.
The place settings will be slightly different with bread plates and butter supplied. Following the toast to the Queen and the Corps a senior member of the mess will propose a toast to the spouses.
30. One other custom followed by all Royal Engineer and Royal Canadian Engineer Mess dinners was the singing of “Hurrah for the CRE”, being a (Commander, Royal Engineers) who is the Senior Combat Engineer at a Division HQ.
The following is a reprint of a Field Engineer Squadron handout from Brigadier General J.L. Melville. Brigadier General Melville began his military career in June 1915 as a Sapper in 6 Field Squadron.
This will be the official version for the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers.
“Good morning Mr Stevens and Windy Notchy Knight, Hurrah for the CRE!
We’re working very hard down at Upnor Hard,
Hurrah for the CRE!
You make fast, I make fast, make fast the dinghy,
Make fast the dinghy, make fast the dinghy, You make fast, I make fast, make fast the dinghy,
Make fast the dinghy pontoon,
For we’re marching on to Laffan’s Plain,
To Laffan’s Plain, to Laffan’s Plain, Yes we’re marching on to Laffan’s Plain,
Where they don’t know mud from clay,
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah,
Oshta, oshta, oshta, oshta, Ikona malee, picaninny skoff,
Ma-ninga sabonza, here’s another off;
Oolum-da cried Matabele,
Oolum-da, away we go,
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah,
Shuush Whoow ”
Explanation of the Wording
“HURRAH FOR THE CRE” is the traditional song of the Royal Engineers and Royal Canadian Engineers, and is sung or played by the band at all social functions, mess dinners, etc.
On the return from the South African war to the Currah, the song was sung by an RE Company under the Command of Major Dobbie (Later Major-General), the heroic defender of Malta in the Second World War. When the band strikes up, all present form a long chain with hands on the shoulders of those in front. The chain winds around the room singing lustily, The closing AH, AH, AH, AH, starts from a fairly high note and gradually descends. At each AH the chain sinks down a little until the singers are on their heels. When down on the heels there is a dead silence and then a whispered SHUUSH. A second silence follows – and then a loud shout of “WHOW”, Everyone comes up with a jump.
Mr. Stevens was a civilian attached to the Royal Engineers.
Windy Notchy Knight was the nickname for a lanky and knobby kneed member of the Corps.
Upnor Hard was the Bridging Site at the RSME, Chatham.
Laffan’s Plain at Aldershot was a very muddy plain, levelled off by the Engineers over a period of years to earn their special rates of pay. The work was planned and carried out under the direction of Colonel RD Laffan, RE.
OSHTA, IKONA MALEE PICANINNY SCOFF MANINGA SABENZA is the Matabele way of saying I AM FED UP AND GLAD TO BE LEAVING. The Matabele Tribe did a lot of labouring for the Royal Engineers in South Africa.
The Members will also be keen to sing “We are the Engineers” which is a more modern song and has a unknown provenance. It will not be sung in mixed company or in the presence of guests.
We are, we are, we are, we are, we are the Engineers.
We can, we can, we can, we can demolish 40 beers.
Drink up, drink up, drink up, drink up and come along with us
Cause we don’t give a damn about any old man who don’t give a damn for us!
My father was a miner in the upper Malamute
My mother was a hostess in a house of ill repute.
They kicked me out of house and home, and in my tender years
So I told em all to go to hell and joined the Engineers!
Godiva was a lady who through Coventry did ride.
Showing all the villagers her lovely lily white hide.
The most observant fellow was a Engineer of course,
He’s the only one that noticed that Godiva rode a horse!
“I’ve come a long long way” she said, “and go as long and far”
With the man who’ll help me off my horse and to a bar.
The men who helped her off her horse and stood her to a beer,
Were a bleary eyed surveyor of the Corps of Engineers!
A tanker and a Engineer were drinkin from a can,
The tanker to the Engineer “Out drink me if you can!”.
The tanker took one drink and then he started turning green,
But the Engineer kept drinking it was only gasoline!
A maiden and an Engineer were sitting in a park,
The Engineer was busy doing research after dark,
His scientific method was a marvel to observe,
While his right hand wrote the figures, his left hand traced the curves.
The Air Force and the Navy came to town to have some fun,
Down into the taverns where the fiery liquors run.
But all they found was broken glass, the Engineers had come.
The traded junk filled demo bags for gallon kegs of rum!
Now Venus was a statue made entirely of stone.
Not a fig leaf on her, she was naked to the bone.
And seeing that her arms were gone, two Engineers discoursed,
“Of course the damn things broken,and it should be reinforced”
Caesar went to Egypt at the age of 53,
Cleopatra’s blood was warm, her heart was young and it was free
But every night when Julius left the house at 3 o’clock,
There was a Roman Engineer awaiting just around the block!
Sir Francis Drake and all his men set out for Misery Bay,
They heard the Spanish Rum Fleet was a headin’ out that way.
But the Engineers had bet them by a night and half a day,
And though as drunk as hooligans you could still here them say
We lay down all their rolling roads,we cut down all their trees
And if the orders ever come, we’d forge the raging seas.
When ever they want to sleep a while, we put them up a town,
And we build the blasted bridges so the Infantry won’t drown!
We put them over rivers and across the mountains streams,
Do everything but tuck them in, and wish them pleasant dreams.
When the goings really tough, and bombs do burst their ears,
The whole division’s quick to say, “GOD SEND THE ENGINEERS!”
We build and blow your bridges and fix your roads up, too.
There aren’t too many things in life an Engineer can’t do.
You never seem to need us till your minds are full of fear,
Then the first thing that you call for are the goddamn Engineer’s
My mother peddles opium, my father’s on the dole,
My sister used to walk the streets, but now she’s on parole,
My brother runs a restaurant with bedrooms in the rear,
But none of them will talk to me ’cause I’m an Engineer.
We build and guard your barriers, we build your bunkers too.
And each and every we prove what Engineers can do.
For in the thick of every fight, the cry has been for years,
“Come clear the path, and save our ass, you goddam Engineers!!!”