A mess is a social space in an army barracks where men can gather off duty to relax, drink and socialise together. Different ranks have their own separate messes, with one for officers, one for NCOs etc. These have been an essential part of barracks life for many centuries and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully evocative postcard of the mess of the NCOs of the Life guards, the country’s premier cavalry regiment:This image probably dates from the Edwardian era, but many features would be familiar to men of today. A large and well stocked bar is still a necessity:As is the provision of recreation facilities, today a pool table has probably replaced one for billiards, but the principle is the same:Other features, such as the gas lighting, have long since disappeared:This large and opulently furnished room is heated by a single, large fireplace at one end. It is surrounded by various trophies won by the mess:These trophies also appear on the large central table, along with potted plants:This table served a number of purposes. It allowed members of the mess to write and do work at it, but was also used for formal dinners in the mess when wives and senior officers might be invited for a night of food, drink and enjoyment.
Other details to note include a small letter rack by the bar, criss-crossed ribbons providing places for correspondence to be tucked into until collected:Interestingly NCO’s messes were often held in higher regard than those of the officers. The author GM Fraser writing in 1970 commented:
The ignorant or unwary, if asked whether they would rather be guests of an officers’ mess or sergeants’, would probably choose the officers’. They might be motivated by snobbery, but probably also by the notion that that the standards of cuisine, comfort, and general atmosphere would be higher. They would be dead wrong.
A 1956 publication highlighted the importance of a well-run mess:
The prestige of a regiment or unit depends to a great extent upon the tone of the Sergeants’ Mess. A well-run Mess will ensure contented and hardworking members. A slack and bad Mess leads to general slackness and inefficiency amongst its members as well as getting the regiment a bad name outside from people who come as visitors.
The standards of the mess in the above photograph are clearly very high, as one would expect from a regiment as prestigious as the Life Guards. It has been suggested that it could be taken at either Hyde Park Barracks or Combermere in Windsor. Sadly both these barracks were demolished and redeveloped in the post-WW2 era and so this fine mess no longer exists.