Light Time in the Officers Mess

[Original image “Canada WW II soldier’s beret and medals” © ericlefrancais1/Dollar Photo Club]

In 1949 I was a Second Lieutenant with 1 RCHA for the summer between my terms at Royal Roads.

The Regiment was on summer training at Camp Wainwright – we all lived in Bell tents – two officers to a tent, and the men were in marquise tents.

Even though we were “roughing it in the Field”, our CO, Lt Col E.M.D. [Teddy] McNaughton, insisted that on every Friday evening a Mess Dinner in full formal Mess Kit be held. Following the dinner he would give a lecture on some aspect of Gunnery.

Whiskeys before dinner, sherry and wine during the five course dinner, port after dinner made it neigh impossible to keep one’s eyes open during his lecture.

On the second Friday all went as it had on the first Friday except that Teddy began his lecture slightly differently – he sat on a ‘tables 6 foot folding’ in front of us and put a cigarette into his mouth – backwards!.

Every eye in the Mess was wide open as all waited the results of “The Boss” lighting the filter tip of his Export cigarette!

He lit it and, without batting an eye, smoked it right through to the stub end while giving his lecture – then lit another – also backwards.

A lesson in training! Keep the attention of the audience!

– – – – – – –

I served as Artillery Intelligence Officer at the Canadian Brigade HQ for my first couple of months in Korea.

Each Sunday the Brigadier, Pat Bogart, accompanied by my CO, Teddy McNaughton, spent the day inspecting one of the Battalions and then staying there to dine at their Officers Mess.

Bogart thought the Brigade Officers Mess should have Indian Curry for Sunday dinner since curry was his favourite – even though he would not be present to eat it. He ordered the Brigade Major, Jack Leech, to contact the Indian Army Field Ambulance CO and request that his cook prepare our meal. He did so and we all enjoyed a lovely curry meal.

On his return that night Bogart asked Jack how the meal went and Jack replied that it was just “OK”, but not hot enough. Bogart ordered him to complain to the Indian CO and have it hotter the following Sunday. He did!

This happened again the following week and again Jack said it was not hot enough. Bogart called the Indian CO and registered a heavy complaint.

On the third Sunday the cook’s curry was so hot that the strong fumes precluded anyone even entering the Mess – except for Jack and me. It was one of the finest curry meals I had ever had!

The remaining officers went without dinner that Sunday!

Jack and the Brigadier had a hearty laugh at the others expense that night!

– – –  – – – –

I was Senior Liaison Officer with the Brigade HQ in Germany 1955-57.

The Commander was Brigadier Roger Rowley – an outstanding officer who thought outside of the box and ran an extremely tight ship.

He ordered a “Mixed Mess Dinner” – husbands and wives. To include women was unheard of! Hundreds of years of tradition was being thrown out the window!

He insisted that the wives would be obliged to follow every rule normal to the men – including no washroom until well after the meal, etc.

The dinner opened with the french doors being flung open to reveal the Signals Corps Band. They struck up Brigadier Rowley’s Regimental March – he stood to attention throughout.

As the next senior military Unit my RCHA march was struck next.

In Artillery fashion I stood on my chair with the left foot on the edge of the table – rigid at attention.

However, at my side also stood Daphne – chair and table just like me.

The Brigadier let out a God awful roar, stopped the Band and asked me “what in Hell do you think you’re doing young lady? What makes you think that you have the right to stand?”

Daph replied without a moment’s hesitation – “Gunner’s Mate, Sir!”

Rowley stood stunned for a moment then said, “Right! Approved! But not one other lady is approved – hear me!”

– – – – – – – –

In 1965 I was CO of the Missile Battery in Germany.

The current Chief of Staff of the Army, General Geoffrey Walsh, was retiring and making his final Good Bye visit to the Troops.

A Farewell Mess Dinner was held for him while we were in the Field on exercise. Following dinner – by which time Walsh was far more than slightly drunk – the Brigadier appointed me to remain as Walsh’s host while the remainder of the officers left to continue their field exercise.

Walsh continued to drink and to make abusive remarks to the barman and to me. Walsh was a widely hated officer and he never made a single move to be liked by anyone!

Walsh had a son then serving with the Brigade, but scheduled by his own choice to leave the Army very shortly. A true fine young officer and a fine young man in all respects.

As Walsh stood next to me at the bar, running down everyone and everything I thought it time to lighten the moment.

“Sorry to hear your son will be leaving the Army – I have seldom known a finer young man.”

“Don’t you try to suck up to me”, he slobbered in his drunken state.

“No, Sir. I am not complimenting you, I am merely saying that your son is a terrific officer not because of you, but rather in spite of you!”

Walsh dropped his drink, raised his arm with closed fist and stepped towards me. I was certain he would strike me – should I fight back?

Suddenly his arm dropped to put a hand on my shoulder and truly, I thought he was going to kiss me!

“Have a drink with me Monte – I like you!”



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