Pickle Night in a typical Senior Rates Mess
Gun crews, white rats and etiquette
The following format works well for a large gathering. It comes from a description supplied to us by Matthew, a retired Warrant Officer with a long history of attending Pickle Night events!
Some format basics
- Attendees (who may include civilian guests) are split up into Gun Crews, each led by a Gun Captain whose job is to keep their crew in order and read out the Dispatches as the evening progresses.
- A Gun Crew is equivalent to a table, maybe 8 or 12 people.
- The Mess President and his guests are at a top table and are responsible for chairing the evening, keeping tabs of fines and settling disputes (or judging competitions!).
- At the beginning of the evening, Gun Captains are briefed and they then detail roles amongst their Crew.
- One Crew member is detailed to be the White Rat, whose job is to spy on other tables and spot breaches of conduct that can be reported to the top table for fines.
- Gun Crew members can be given jobs such as Beer Bosun, Mess Cook (collects the food for their Gun Crew) and Powder Monkey (helps Mess Cook and conveys messages from the White Rats to the Top table/Master at Arms).
- Etiquette is decided by the Mess President and communicated to everyone at the start of the evening. This may include such transgressions as talking during the Dispatches, allowing the port decanter to leave the table or leaving your table without the permission of the Mess President.
- Breaches in Mess etiquette are reported to the Master at Arms by White Rats, and the President then decides on the punishment. However, be careful, White Rats can just as easily be White-ratted for being White Rats (this often happens early on in the proceedings!).
Note for civilians - Naval etiquette demands that the port is always passed to the left!
Rig/dress is quite easy. White trousers, blue and white striped top, a straw boater hat with HMS Pickle cap tally (see here to purchase one of these hats). Be aware you can be reported to the Master at Arms for looking too much like a pirate or wearing a wristwatch. Watches and phones are anachronous to the occasion and therefore forbidden.
Ed: I guess if you want to take photos on a smartphone you will need permission or else to be very sneaky and try to avoid being ratted!
Music is played and sung and normally consists of traditional Sea Shanties. Some Pickle nights include singing competitions between gun crews. The competition may be judged on any set of criteria decided by the Mess President.
Food is normally soup for starter, meat and veg for main and a desert. Everything is eaten off a single plate. You can use your bread to clean your plate between courses.
Matthew's word of warning, "If you have to leave the table always take your spoon with you as a spoon that’s 'been left loafing' will always disappear. Trust me it’s no fun eating steamed pudding and custard with your fingers!!"
An example paper place mat
A sample of a printed paper placemat as used in a typical WO and CPO's Mess Pickle night supper
Sequence of events
The programme for the evening proceeds along the following lines:
Guests arrive and move into main bar
Master at Arms briefs guests
Gun Captains' briefing
Port Saluting gun
Ship's company muster: board HMS Pickle (take seats)
Up Spirits (piped signal to announce the commencement of festivities - originally to signal the daily tot of rum)
Top table arrive - piped on board
Gun Captains report ready in all respects to proceed
SSD fall out/sea duty men close up
Ease springs (optional comfort break for all)
Loyal Toast (officers remain seated)
Immortal Memory (Silent Toast)
Ease Springs (optional comfort break for all)
Mess President closes proceedings
Retire to bar
- We have provided the text and guidance for the above toasts, and additional daily naval toasts, here, in our article about Pickle Night etiquette and toasts.
- Download a set of Dispatches which may be read out in the course of proceedings, and access other resources to help prepare your event.
Got a question? If you have been detailed with organising an official Pickle Night and would like further guidance, please get in touch and we'll try to link you up with someone who can advise.
Do things differently?
Let us know how your Mess Pickle Nights are conducted