At the last meeting of lodge
Devotion the “work” was a “table lodge”.
It was a new enjoyable experience for me and I believe for many
others. Before the meeting a comment was
made that it was believed to be like an officers’ mess dining night. In this context I was asked to give my
observations on the night, no doubt because of my long experience in the
military and having been a member of many officers’ messes.
My most fond recollections are
those of being a member of the officers’ messes of the 1st, 2nd and 7th
Battalions of The Royal Australian Regiment.
It seems a long time ago now and many things will have changed. For example fewer officers “live in” and
messes are probably no longer a robust all male fraternity. On active service messes were often
established in base areas but they comprised of just a bar in a tent and a meal
area for the few base officers. I have
never been aware of a dining in night being held during operations as it would
be hard to get all the officers together.
However, in build up phase for operations dining in nights were usually
held monthly with a very formal night held every three months. Ladies Dining in Nights were held at lease
every 12 months- (no, not “mixed” dining in nights you cad!). They served to be part of team building in a
battalion, to enable officers who were often spread to the four winds in
training to get to know each other, to enable the Commanding Officer to set the
tone for the battalion but more important to enable the officers to have some
The first part of the dinner
was always very formal around a “U” shaped table; the 2IC of the Battalion who
was always the president of the mess Committee at the head of the table, the
Senior Subaltern (the senior Captain) at the end of one of the ends of the
north table to act as “Mr Vice” (Dining Vice President) where he proposed the
toasts, and the Commanding Officer on the side of the north table with the
principal guests. When the last of many
courses was finished the Dining President would invite Mr Vice to take his
chair then withdraw to the ante-room with everybody except the subalterns. That is when the real fun started. This is what could be compared with our table
lodge except our Master and his principal officers conducted our version of a
Every Mr Vice would have his
own procedures but they invariably involved some solid drinking – when the port
was passed the decanter was not allowed to touch the table, everybody had to
pour a glass and consume it in one swallow.
There was joke telling. There
were toasts. Some on command would turn
their chairs around and sit with the backs against their chests as if riding a
horse, moving the right arm as if holding a crop and then on the command of Mr
Vice beat the table with both hands progressively faster to simulate a horse
walking, trotting, cantering then galloping.
There would be a saddle cup of course.
The usual rules applied – no discussion of a religious nature, politics
or women. There was never anything done
to make anyone suffer a personal indignity or physical harm. If we were chose a Mr Vice, a Junior Warden
would be a suitable choice. It would be
a good training appointment.
I said on the night it was
great fun to attend a table lodge and that we should do it once a year. That is still my view. A Master’s Last Night would be a suitable
occasion. There is nothing to stop us
improving on the ritual that we used on the night, indeed I would commend it
and adopt a little more from the established tradition of military officer’s