A Royal Mess

loyal toast windows

Dining in nights are a great tradition in all arms of the forces as it gives everyone a chance to get togged up in our finest, eat good food, drink good wine and enjoy the company of our friends. One such night I remember distinctly was spent at RAF Northolt on the A40 near London.

Northolt Officers’ Mess is a beautiful old building which has been used by the RAF since WWII and has the patina of age and experience. The main dining room has a high, lofted ceiling with a row of clerestory windows to admit light in the apex of the room. In summer, these windows can be opened by using a long metal winding handle which turns a screw to slowly open them and provide ventilation on hot evenings.

On this particular evening we had, as a guest, a member of the Royal Family and we were consequently all dressed in our most prestigious No5 Mess Dress uniforms complete with wing collars and stiff-fronted shirts. It was a lovely July evening after a hot, summer day and the dining room was quite warm and, as the night drew on, became quite stuffy.

Now each dining in night is presided over by the President of the Mess Committee, or PMC, who has the responsibility of ensuring that the formalities of the evening are maintained – including, of course, the Loyal Toast always proposed by the most junior officer present – known as “Mr Vice”. Mr Vice always sits at the very bottom of the room at a position as far away from the top table as possible as befits the lowliest sprog officer in the Mess.

On this evening, a young Acting Pilot Officer was attending as Mr Vice and he was quite terrified of the prospect of having to give the Loyal Toast to “The Queen” and was consequently wound up like a taut spring awaiting the PMC to bang his gavel on the table and call “Mr Vice – The Queen”. At this point, Mr Vice would have to stand, raise his glass and say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Queen.” 

However, on this particular evening, the increasingly hot night coupled with the fact that we were all wearing the most uncomfortable of our dress uniforms prompted the PMC to do something about it. He decided that he would get the clerestory windows opened to provide a much-needed draught of cool air around the room. Deciding that the junior Mr Vice would be well suited to this task, the PMC raised his gavel and banged in on the table to gain Mr Vice’s attention, at the same time declaring, “Mr Vice – The Windows.” 

At which point, the young Acting Pilot Officer’s spring-like tension galvanised him into action. He leapt to his feet, raised his glass and, in fine voice, called out, “Ladies and Gentlemen ….. The Windows.”

Dutifully, the entire mess rose to its feet, raised their glasses and solemnly chanted, “The Windows”, took a swallow of wine and sat down.

Only then did the entire Mess dissolve into uncontrollable laughter, much to the embarrassment of the poor Mr Vice whose red face betrayed the fact that he wished the floor to open up and swallow him. 

To this day at RAF Northolt, I believe that the windows are always toasted before  The Queen…..!

Thanks goes to

Roger, 63

Sex : Not as often any more…

Profession: Retired RAF pilot

Where you’re from: Lancashire

Where you live now: North Wales

Your drinking habits: Moderate