* The History of the Mess Dinner ~ Traditionally, the mess dinner was the time after working hours when the mess sat down for dinner with their commanding officer. It should be remembered that at one time most members of a mess were single and one needed the CO’s permission to marry. In addition, all members of the mess would dress for dinner; the mess dinner was a result of the rules of gentlemanly conduct and the fact that every officer llived in the mess. As such, every night was a mess dinner.
Now mess dinners are normally held for a traditional reason: Air Force birthday/anniversary or a retirement. Some of the pomp and ceremony is associated with Scotland. The association to Scottish heraldry stems from World War Two, when Group Captain Fullerton, Commanding Officer RCAF Stations Summerside, decided to form a pipe band on his station. This decision was made during a mess dinner to celebrate ‘Robbie Burns Day’, a traditional highland celebration on January 25th when haggis is served. So now, in the highland tradition, there is a piper who pipes a 15 minute warning during cocktails, another warning at five minutes before dinner, and then, when it’s time for dinner, the piper approaches the CO and the Guest of Honour and pipes them into dinner. The piper next appears to pipe in the port for the loyal toast. At the termination of dinner, the CO thanks the piper in traditional highland manner;; they share a quaich (a two handled friendship cup) of Scotch with a highland toast. Piper says, ” Slainte ” (Slawn-cha) ” Good Health ” and the CO says ” Slainte mhath ” (Slawn-cha Vah) ” Good Health to You “.
With regards to the loyal toast, at an Air Force dinner, the port is piped in by a piper, and once all the servers are in position, the piper stops playing. At an Air Force dinner, the port bottle never touches the table, symbolizing the flying aspect of the air force. The toast is a toast to ” the Queen of Canada ” / ” la Reine du Canada “.
The loyal toast indicates the close of the formal portion of the dinner; this is when a guest speaker will make his presentation. It also signifies that smoking may commence and mess games may be played. However, it is common courtesy to allow the guest to speak without interruption. Traditionally, members of the mess attend the dinner until the guest of honour departs. If it’s necessary to leave early, the member is to seek out the guest of honour to bid him farewell.
The traditional dress for a gentleman’s evening was “Black Tie”. This led to the military adopting a formal mess uniform. The mess kits pattern comes from the time the mess dress was first adopted by the Air Force in the late 1920s. During this time, the short coat (with tails) and coveralls (trousers) were very popular with the general population and the military was quite fashion conscious; and so this pattern was accepted and is still in use today. With time, fashions have changed and thus influenced the mess dress. Starched shirt fronts and vests lost their popularity in the 50s and so the Air Force dropped them from their mess dress. In addition, wing collars lost their popularity after WWII and in the late 50s, the Air Force stopped wearing them. When unification came in 1968, a new tri-service mess dress was adopted by the Canadian Forces. This followed the traditional pattern but some fashionable changes were made: the collar was changed from a peaked type to a shawl collar and the colour was changed to a tri-service midnight blue.
The concept of a head table has an interesting history. In times past, military units were full of single people and the mess was their home. The dinner was the social time of the day and the CO normally wanted to see all of his officers. This was accomplished by arranging the seating in such a manner that permitted the CO to view all attendees. A head table was established with the CO seated in the middle with the tables extending out like arms from the head table. This layout allowed the CO to see everybody. This accomplished two things: the CO could take attendance and he could monitor the social behaviour of his personnel!
* Battle of Britain Day Parade ~ Each year, this parade is held in September, to commemorate the Battle of Britain and to honour the members of the Air Force who dies during this battle as well as other battles fought by the Air Force. There is a reason why the Battle of Britain has been selected for symbolic honouring of the dead heroes of the Air Force. The Battle of Britain was entirely an air battle and was one of the most decisive battles in all history. In a brief span of raids during the autumn of 1940, our Commonwealth Air Forces defeated the German Luftwaffe. It is almost certain that Great Britain would have been invaded if the Battle of Britain had been lost. The RCAF is proud of the active part it played in this historic battle.