The Officers’ Mess and table lodges
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 fun.
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 table lodge.
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 messes.
Yours fraternally ,
There is a page on Table Lodges here