Royal Navy Mess Deck Photograph

This week’s image is a rare and wonderfully informal snap shot of a ratings mess deck on board a Royal Navy warship in the 1950s or 1960s:

It is clearly meal time and one of the ratings butters bread whilst a can of carnation milk sits open on the table alongside a large teapot:

Carnation milk appears regularly in accounts of mess life as part of various drinks recipes, including ‘Kye’ which was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. One sailor recalls two different methods of making it:

1. Take block of solid cooking chocolate and shave it into a fanny (no not the type) then add a 1 kilo bag of sugar and two tins of evaporated milk. top up with water and take to the boiler room. Place a steam pipe (a bit like they use to heat milk on Italian coffee machines but bigger) Apply loads of steam until you have a thick boiling hot chocolate drink. Wander about dishing it out to the bridge, ops room and watch on deck. Do not forget the life buoy ghost or you will get a smacking.

As you will have no access to any of the above ingredients or equipment, get large jar of powdered drinking chocolate and put it put into your largest receptacle, add half a bag of sugar, a tin or two of condensed milk and heat until it boils stirring all the time. Put in a generous helping of what ever spirit you have handy and serve. If you are not the most popular person inboard I will eat my hat. The spirit goes in after you have made it not during OK.

Behind the men can be seen one of the bunks, with a rating’s cap tossed casually on it, sadly I cannot make out the cap tally so it is not clear which vessel this is:

To the right of the photograph can be seen some of the lockers where men stored their kit when not needed:

Photographs taken by the men themselves of mess decks are uncommon to say the least and the informality of this snap is wonderful and shows an unsanitised view of what life was actually like for sailors at this period.

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