Barren Mess?

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#21
Contractorisation of messes also contributes. They simply aren’t as good value as they used to be. When I was a subbie (which is not aeons ago) we used to put up with the mess bullshit because it was £1 a pint, and DFC meant we ate like kings.

I lived in a HQ mess for a while a couple of years ago. Two 2Lts moved in and got pushed about a bit by the ‘Tweed and Death’ Brigade. Bollocking for stuff like not attending dinner, not putting on a tie to read the papers in the anti room, wanting to leave the bar when the old cnuts still wanted someone to drink with them. Then they disappeared..
See, this is where the Army and I were like oil and water. For years it never occurred to me that someone behaving like that might actually be serious, and it turns out that laughing in their faces isn't well received, even if the laughter is the good kind intended to show your appreciation for a really good joke.

"If you are someone who thinks prurient attention to the dress of others is an important component of fighting power then I can only suggest Dignitas."

That was the winning sentence for this thread. There are lots of bits of the Army where group mentality and coercion are useful and even necessary, even in things like group punishments in training which are now out of vogue just because the chain of command are scared and don't trust their subordinates. But the kind of person and mentality that insists everyone wears a certain kind of jacket or trousers because COHESION, is either an undiluted idiot or some dilution of toxic. It's the Ikea version of leadership and teamwork, used primarily by people who have never had an original thought on purpose, and can only manage a vague approximation of the real thing if all the pieces and tools are provided with a paint-by-numbers guide that uses no big words, or preferably no words at all.

If they and that attitude all died a death right now, the Army would be a much smaller but much more effective organisation tomorrow. Messes would be a good start.

@Horus Just re-read your post. Here's a practical suggestion: unless you are in one of the few regiments where it is an actual rank, stop calling or thinking of the younger officers as subalterns. Everyone lives in a rank environment all day, most of them really aren't that keen on playing the same game on their own time. Messes work best when they are rank-light or rank-invisible, and - from experience - it's just as galling being a 29-year old 2Lt having some dullard 23-year old Captain waxing lyrical about [life] solely on the basis that they are more senior, as it is being a 40-year old Captain having a 23-year old 2Lt doing the same. People are not their rank. Referring to them as such should be a work habit, not an out-of-hours one.
 
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#22
The difference in numbers eating evening meal in the mess when members can eat in uniform and when they can’t is always an interesting one to see.

Many are working until 1800/1830 when evening meal is served and rather than rush to change members simply get a plated meal or cook their own food.
 
#23
See, this is where the Army and I were like oil and water. For years it never occurred to me that someone behaving like that might actually be serious, and it turns out that laughing in their faces isn't well received, even if the laughter is the good kind intended to show your appreciation for a really good joke.

"If you are someone who thinks prurient attention to the dress of others is an important component of fighting power then I can only suggest Dignitas."

That was the winning sentence for this thread. There are lots of bits of the Army where group mentality and coercion are useful and even necessary, even in things like group punishments in training which are now out of vogue just because the chain of command are scared and don't trust their subordinates. But the kind of person and mentality that insists everyone wears a certain kind of jacket or trousers because COHESION, is either an undiluted idiot or some dilution of toxic. It's the Ikea version of leadership and teamwork, used primarily by people who have never had an original thought on purpose, and can only manage a vague approximation of the real thing if all the pieces and tools are provided with a paint-by-numbers guide that uses no big words, or preferably no words at all.

If they and that attitude all died a death right now, the Army would be a much smaller but much more effective organisation tomorrow. Messes would be a good start.

@Horus Just re-read your post. Here's a practical suggestion: unless you are in one of the few regiments where it is an actual rank, stop calling or thinking of the younger officers as subalterns. Everyone lives in a rank environment all day, most of them really aren't that keen on playing the same game on their own time. Messes work best when they are rank-light or rank-invisible, and - from experience - it's just as galling being a 29-year old 2Lt having some dullard 23-year old Captain waxing lyrical about [life] solely on the basis that they are more senior, as it is being a 40-year old Captain having a 23-year old 2Lt doing the same. People are not their rank. Referring to them as such should be a work habit, not an out-of-hours one.
That's a very British Army thing, carrying rank into the out-of-hours environment. I put it down to the fact that the Army is a lot more socially hierarchically conscious that the RN / RAF.

To cite an example, I've just come back from a tri-Service short course, principally populated by SO3s - SO1s and a number of superb WOs. The only people calling someone 'Colonel' in the village pub were the Army SO3s / SO2s, personally I found it more than a little obsequious.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#24
The old mess system worked because there was coercion. You had to eat there: there was no other option: and the younger mess members were disciplined if they didn't play along. The best tries at solving the mess problem I've experienced or heard about effectively just re-introduced that coercion in various ways.
Yup. The best messes I've been in have enforced attendance at dinner. If you can't enforce it then the mess, in any traditional sense, will die. That can be replaced by a fun environment to live in without the rules, but only in the right place. You'll never really achieve that in HQ or large base messes.

I think there's an element of opting-in to the rules if you join a traditional (ie. Cavalry) mess. For other messes it's pretty hard to get people on board with black tie dinners and enforced communal dining.

Edited to add: I also think this only really works if everyone in the mess is relatively junior. Almost all cavalry messes will have the field officers living out, so it's truly a captains and subalterns private environment in the evening. If you have the adjt or random squadron leaders kicking around then I think it must be much harder for people to relax and enjoy themselves.
 
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#25
Yup. The best messes I've been in have enforced attendance at dinner.
That sounds awful. The best messes I lived in had a relaxed attitude to dress, and were fun. Attendance didn’t need to be forced as we enjoyed each other’s company - and could do things such as go waterskiing/watching sports/down town in the evening with our fellow mess members rather than eating in the same room every night, if we wished - or smash back as many subsidised jäger bombs as possible in the bar.

In my mind it says a lot about a unit if eating together either is, or has to be, mandated.

Edit: Out of interest, what were the punishments for not attending? Were there any exceptions/what if you wanted to go play sport, watch a film or have a meal with friends instead?
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#26
In my mind it says a lot about a unit if eating together either is, or has to be, mandated.
I probably wouldn't throw stones until you've served in a unit with a traditional mess. We ate together for good reasons and it gave the mess a great atmosphere. If you wanted to do something else during dinner, as we often did, you just had to get permission from the senior liver in. It just stopped people from getting lazy and eating in their room.
 
#27
Surely the key element here is selection of regiment/corps to begin with.

If you're the type that prefers formality, then there are units that can give you that in abundance. If you're the type that prefers to minimise formality, there are units (indeed entire services) that can provide that too.

The disappointing bit is when people try and look down on others' choices. WTF has it got to do with them what others choose to do?
 
#28
Surely the key element here is selection of regiment/corps to begin with.

If you're the type that prefers formality, then there are units that can give you that in abundance. If you're the type that prefers to minimise formality, there are units (indeed entire services) that can provide that too.

The disappointing bit is when people try and look down on others' choices. WTF has it got to do with them what others choose to do?
So we should select people, and people should select their jobs based on preferred formality of dining?
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#29
So we should select people, and people should select their jobs based on preferred formality of dining?
If you don't want to join a unit that bases it's ethos around tradition and enforced mess brotherhood then there are plenty to choose from that will allow you to socialise with your peer officers as you wish. Personally I prefer the former but I can understand why many would prefer the latter.
 
#30
So we should select people, and people should select their jobs based on preferred formality of dining?
Of course not. It's the whole package. But you knew that.
 
#33
If you don't want to join a unit that bases it's ethos around tradition and enforced mess brotherhood then there are plenty to choose from that will allow you to socialise with your peer officers as you wish. Personally I prefer the former but I can understand why many would prefer the latter.
I think it’s laughable that [some] messes have to force people to attend.

If it was any good, you wouldn’t need to.
 
#34
But you said that people should select their Regiment / Corps based on their desired formality of dining?

I would argue that it should have absolutely no bearing whatsoever.
I did no such thing. Please point me to where I mentioned dining at all, in fact.

I referenced formality. That's as much to do with any other aspect of regimental life as the Mess. Some units are very conservative in everything they do. Others are much more permissive. It's not just the Messes.
 
#35
It’s scoff FFS, get it down your neck and get on with things.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#36
So - dining preference is more important than competence and we should select on that basis?
If you don't want to join in with the traditions of a unit then join another. I don't really understand why you would want to join a unit of you didn't want to take part in its traditions, but there we are.

Units can then select from those who wish to join them according to whatever criteria they choose, although you'd hope that would mostly be confidence.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#37
I think it’s laughable that [some] messes have to force people to attend.

If it was any good, you wouldn’t need to.
They don't have to force people to attend. They mandate the attendance of everyone. There's a big difference.

Again, I wouldn't criticise until you've served in such a unit. It's done for a purpose.
 
#38
I did no such thing. Please point me to where I mentioned dining at all, in fact.

I referenced formality. That's as much to do with any other aspect of regimental life as the Mess. Some units are very conservative in everything they do. Others are much more permissive. It's not just the Messes.
Fair enough.

Interestingly our Household Division has a reputation for formality. It has some of the worst manned units in the British Army - and is struggling to retain the few men it has.

Similarly our Lt Cav units are shitting kittens about producing circa two sub-units a year to go to Estonia.

Maybe focusing less on running these units as boys clubs for the Officers and more on units that people want to soldier in would be an idea.
 
#40
It's now over 30 years ago since I was commissioned (God, where does the time go?) and even then I was surprised at how little the mess was used, especially in UK.
Even on a camp with loads of officers in quarters, the mess was hardly ever used. Much easier to take my missus to the pub over the road than to stick a suit and tie on and drink alone in the mess regardless of how cheap it was.
For my last year, I lived in the mess and the only people at dinner were civvy contractors/CS who lived in. The other (very few) single officers preferred to eat in their rooms which I did after the first month novelty wore off.
Overseas was rather different but the three messes I used in UK were pretty dead most of the time (formal mess functions being the exception but there weren't many of them).
One notable exception was the mess at Blandford. Lots of officers on courses and it seemed to be used rather well.
(that was 26 years ago so maybe changed)
PAYD hadn't come in then and the meals were pretty good.
 
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