The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Memories of a Mess Orderly
Cooks are necessary, I suppose; but how'd the troops get on without mess orderlies? They would quickly fade away. They're the backbone of the Army, are mess orderlies, in my opinion; and I ought to know, for I've been on the job pretty often. Cooks cook the mungar, you say. Right O! But who deals it out? There's nothing to argue about.
Yes, I've had a lot of experience, one way and another, in the mess orderly business. If ever I'm on my uppers in civvy life, I'll easy be able to hold down a job as boss cocky of a restaurant—one of those three-courses-for-a-tanner shows. I've been a master mess orderly.
It began in Aussie. The day after I went into camp, they put me on cook's fatigue; and I did so well that I was soon promoted to the sergeants' mess. The three-barites said I made a mess of it, but they were praising me up. Anyway, I fell in for the job again coming over; but somehow I couldn't please anybody. The darned old barge even was against me. When I got all the cutlery and dishes polished to perfection and I early arranged on the end of the table, just as the O.C. came along the boat 'Id roll to starboard or port. She had a beastly habit, too, of lurching or nose-diving when I was coming down with the stew. And they asked me why I wasn't more careful!!
I was off the chain for a couple of weeks after we struck Egypt'; but they couldn't do without me: as a mess orderly I was "It". I got a reputation that made the cooks jealous.
Nobody took the trouble to sling them compliments such as I received. I got a few wrinkles from a garcon in Cairo, a chap who had studied under the great, M. De Dopie. But I wasn't on the sergeants' mess now; no, my work lay in a. sphere where there was more scope for my genius. I set out to make our mess hut a model, and my colleagues, even the n.c.o. in charge, were neutrals. The stumbling stone in the path to success was the Q M., who wouldn't see eye to eve with me. He declined, with quite unnecessary harshness, to issue a hundred paper serviettes daily; though I pointed out that the use of them at meals was the correct thing in Society. And when I hinted that china plates were nicer than mess-tins and the chipped enamelled things, he advised me to parade sick!
Despite all rebuffs, and the dixie king's hostility when I suggested improved methods of stew building, our mess became a model. Every meal time we were like a party in a parlour. No rude horseplay; certainly not. A little pleasant conversation, the best aid to digestion, but nothing more, except a few post prandial pranks—boys will be boys, you know.
Our table manners were perfect. You never heard such vulgar expression as: "Chuck us the dodger, Bill", "Igri with that blooming jam", or anything of that nature. We asked politely for what we wanted, thus: "May I trouble you for the bread, Private Jonas?" "Will you kindly pass the salt, Corporal Saline". It was a pleasure to mess in Our Hut The mess orderlies had to toil some after each meal, cleaning up and making everything O.K. for inspection. But we didn't mind that; we took a pride in our hut. And usually we netted a "Very good'' from the orderly officer. What hurt us was having to make the dixies shine like polished silver. They were black as Erebus when we got the job, and we used quarts of baked sand and vast quantities of the best brand of elbow-grease in making mirrors of them. When we had finished they were a picture. Even the cook couldn't help slinging us a bit of soft soap; but he spoilt the effect by suggesting that we should always keep the dixies clean.
Of course, there are some disadvantages attached to this job. For instance, when your cobber is lying at ease in the bivvy, smoking the pipe of peace, you go by lugging a couple of dixies from the cook-house to the mess hut. He doesn't offer to give you a hand, but flings you a word of advice on how to carry dixies without spilling their contents. Ah, well, it's all in the game; and even a mess orderly has his hours of relaxation, while his mates are out in the sun.
In this war we're always moving, moving on, as the poem says; and I, alas! had to move on from out to the desert, where there are no mess huts and every man is his own mess orderly. I was at a loose end till I persuaded my bivvy mates to let me organise the mungar arrangements; then I felt happy again. Yet it was not the same; and I often sighed for the little wooden hut, where we never, no, never, forgot our table manners. That was a model mess.