RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

All in a name…

That picture of me over there…on the right…it’s of me, yes, wearing my “Mess Dress” – or Number 5’s.

Each different type of uniform we have has a different number (well it is the military – everything is done by numbers!).  Our posh dress uniform you’d see us wearing on parades are Number 1’s, normal daily working blues are Number 2’s.  The Mess Dress uniform is worn for special occasions and functions in the Sergeants’ Mess (Officers have a similar, but slightly different set of Number 5’s for their Mess); for our Summer Ball, or for a Dining In Night.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.  A Dining In Night, is basically, a posh meal. It’s a very formal meal where there is fine food, good wine, plenty to eat and drink – with speeches and so forth. The table is always set with silver – and there are specific rules that are too wide complicated to go into, but all are to do with tradition.

Anyway, we went to Poland to commemorate the Long March (which I have blogged about in the past) and at the end of the trip we celebrated and commemorated the event with a Dining In Night. This was held in a fantastic old Polish Castle (That is now a hotel, but was once Herman Goring’s Hunting Lodge).  After a fantastic meal, and several emotional speeches, we moved to the bar, only to find we were not alone in having a function there.

Some local…let’s call them…businessmen…slightly dodgy businessmen at any rate, were also having a meal and a bit of a “do” there. The hotel had provided a disco and a bar for both parties and with no sense of formality we crashed into each other with wild beery and vodka fuelled abandon.

I wouldn’t say it was a car crash, but it was certainly…interesting how the two groups came together, and how we partied.  At one stage I found myself sitting at a table with a family of “businessmen” who told me that in 1989 he was in the Polish army.  “Back then” he said with stilted, but understandable English “We enemy. Now. We friends. We drink.” He then produced a bottle of very rough Vodka, which went round the table a couple of times…toasting…well, I can’t really remember WHO was toasted each time, but I am fairly sure we were toasting someone!

So there we were; we Brits were all in our Mess Dress, the Businessmen in sharp suits. And several of the businessmen – oh sod it, let’s call them gangsters – cos that is what they were – liked our uniforms.  A couple tried to actually BUY our uniforms off us – to no avail, until one started to talk to a chap we’ll call Mickey.

Mickey was into his last few days in the RAF.  This trip was his swan-song…he was leaving the RAF after 22 years service just a few days after we got back to the UK.  The mobsters started talking to him, and in particular about his Mess Dress.

Mickey said he was leaving and the Polish gentleman said he had an idea. Mickey wouldn’t need his Mess Dress any more – but he WOULD need a suit. They could swap suits! Mess Dress for a rather snazzy Armani two piece.

Mickey jumped at it. He said it’d be great for job interviews…and he’d look the business in it. And best of all it looked like it’d be a good fit.

And it was. The two of them went out into the corridor and swapped clothes. The Polish guy returning wearing Mickey’s full Mess Dress – even down to the medal miniatures on his lapel, and Mickey returned wearing the suit. Beaming and quite proud.

The night eventually ended and the Poles left – we retired to our rooms – awaking the next day to return home. As we gathered in the hotel foyer Mickey arrived still wearing the suit. Still really happy. Very proud of his lovely Armani suit.

But them his world was blown apart. He opened his jacket to show someone the label…

Now, remember the Poles from the night before were all a bit dodgy – and the suit was as dodgy as the bloke who’d swapped it for a very expensive Mess Dress. The lable had just one word on it…

Not “Armani”. You see, it wasn’t an “Armarni” suit.

No. Instead it said…



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One thought on “All in a name…

  1. I was reminded of a story my parents told me about Mess Do’s years ago. I suppose they had lived outside the base for long – outside because they were married but under 25 and therefore didn’t qualify for a forces house, so lived with other young couples in caravans outside the base. Dad was a night pilot but in those days that didn’t mean you were paid very much. So news of a Mess do came up but because they were barely subsisting on Dad’s wages they decided that they couldn’t afford to go. They did however watch all the comings and goings from the bushes and look through the windows at what they were missing. Then at the end of the month Dad found he got charged on his Mess account anyway! Bit of a nasty surprise – I think it meant a week of cabbage soup…..

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