It will be unquestionably conceded that the messing of a man-of-war's crew in our service is the most imperfect part of its organization. Every line officer is familiar with the annoyances and discomforts that result from it, and how utterly out of harmony it is with the general organization of a well disciplined ship. Time, with its changes in types of ships, ordnance, etc., has forced upon us changes in the various other organizations; but in the matter of messing, so important to the health, contentment, and general welfare of the men, we remain to-day very much in the same condition as when our navy sprang into existence.
We all know the objections to the present system: the untrained, untidy cooks, and the impossibility of obtaining the requisite number of men suitable for the duty; the ruining in its preparation of the good, generous ration furnished by the Government; the old and unclean manner of washing mess gear; the necessarily wasteful system of apportioning out the mess stores to the numerous cooks; the frequent complaints of the messes against each other for purloining sea stores; the delay in clearing up the decks after meals and especially when boats' crews or other parties of men are absent; and the difficulty of keeping satisfactory meals for such absentees. It is reasonable to assume that any proved system which eliminates all these objections would challenge the consideration of every line officer and demand a fair trial. The following plan does eliminate them, and in addition spares the Executive and Paymaster many annoyances and a considerable amount of unnecessary labor, gives the greatest satisfaction to the men and adds materially to their comfort, at the same time doing away with the custom of contributing to a mess fund from their scant wages. This statement is based on a twelve months' trial of the system on board the Independence, with the number of men on board during that period ranging from two hundred to over three hundred. I am confident that the same system, with slight modifications (which will be indicated), might be adopted on board cruisers with the same excellent results.
The Independence organization consists of one mess for the entire ship's company, appointed petty officers included. The mess is served by one ship's cook, one pantryman, and one messman for every twenty men. With a large number of men on board, an assistant cook and an assistant pantryman are necessary. All the rations are commuted and form a mess fund in the hands of the Paymaster. The pantryman alone receives extra compensation—twenty dollars per month being paid him out of the mess fund; this, with the pay of his rate, secures an efficient man for the duty, which is of the first importance.
A pantry was built forward on the gun-deck, abreast the galley, with sufficient locker room for groceries; a large sink for washing mess gear, with waste pipe leading overboard, the necessary shelving, and a strong table about five feet by three feet were put up. A bread-bin was built against and abaft the after athwartship pantry bulkhead, large enough for two days' supply of bread, one end of the bin being partitioned off for flour.
It was at first intended to keep all the mess gear in the pantry, but it was found that this would make the room inconveniently large, so one mess chest for each twenty men was used for crockery only, the cutlery being kept in the mess table drawers, so arranged that it could be thoroughly inspected at a glance.
Three reliable caterers were appointed, the master-at-arms, paymaster's yeoman, and a corporal of marines (the mail orderly); and they selected, with the approval of the commanding officer, a grocer, butcher, and baker to furnish the supplies. It was explained to these tradesmen that their bills would be paid by the paymaster of the ship at the end of each month, and as their sales would be large, they must furnish the best of everything ordered at the lowest market rates. It was manifestly their policy to do this, for, under the old system, the mess money, amounting generally to one hundred and fifty dollars per month for each mess, including commuted ration money, was entrusted to the mess cooks to pay the mess bills, and they not infrequently deserted with the entire amount; and as the messes in such cases were invariably unwilling to make good the debt, and the tradesmen loath to insist on it through fear of losing the trade, the latter had to submit to the losses, and in order to protect themselves they charged higher prices to cover such contingencies.
The caterers purchase the supplies daily, and deliver the pass-books to the executive officer for his inspection. The latter keeps at hand a daily corrected record of the number of men attached to the ship, so that it is a simple calculation in examining the books to determine whether or not the daily ration amount has been exceeded. Every morning after the liberty list has been signed, the caterers are notified of the number of men who will be absent on the following day, and the orders for supplies decreased accordingly, thus saving to the men what under the old system would have been wasted. After a brief experience, the caterers, being intelligent men, acquired an exact judgment of the quantity of provisions to be ordered under all circumstances, so that each man had an abundance to eat, and nothing was wasted.
At the end of each month the tradesmen submit their bills, which, after being certified to by the caterers as correct, are approved by the executive officer, and finally by the commanding officer, who orders the paymaster to pay the same and charge to the general mess fund.
Under the old system each man was required to pay a mess assessment of three dollars per month; under the present plan none is required, but, instead, a surplus of over three hundred dollars had accumulated at the end of the first three months, with a decided improvement in the character and preparation of the food. The surplus is never allowed to exceed five hundred dollars. It accumulates in the summer, when provisions are cheap, and is drawn upon in the winter, when the prices for the same are higher, so that the fare throughout the year is uniformly good; it is also drawn upon when necessary to renew mess gear, and on holiday occasions when the men are given an especially good dinner.
The duty of the pantryman is to prepare all the food for the galley and tables; in other words, his duties are to this extent those of a steward. He and the ship's cook work together, and are assisted, when necessary, by regular details from the messmen.
The messmen are detailed from the rates below seaman, one private for the marine guard, the latter always messing together. As the duties of the messmen are simply mechanical, requiring no knowledge of the preparation of food, all the men in the rates of ordinary seamen, landsmen and coal-heavers, excepting those otherwise specially detailed, are required to perform the duty in rotation. The detail is changed monthly.
The men are not assigned to any particular tables or seats. The one rule in this respect is, that they shall first fill up all the forward tables, leaving the vacancies in the after ones for any absentees. When any number of men are detained from meals on duty, such as boats' crews and working parties, the officer of the deck sends an order to the pantry, and on their return they are served with meals as hot and as good in all other respects as when the meal was "piped." No other tables excepting those occupied by these men are delayed in clearing off, and when the hands are turned to, except on very unusual occasions, the decks are ready for the sweepers. Such men as receive their meals at seven bells—sentries, quartermasters, and the watch of the engineer's force—are served together at the same table, which is again in readiness at the regular meal hour.
The system is most convenient when men are sent on detached duty, as they may be supplied with their ration money out of the mess fund, or the executive officer may direct the caterers to procure from the tradesmen stores suitable for the occasion. Under the old system, when large drafts were sent from the ship, it invariably happened that one or more of the messes were reduced below the number of commuted rations allowed in such messes; this resulted in much trouble to the executive and paymaster and in a reorganization of the messes. Another serious objection to the old system is very manifest when recruiting. As the recruits become at once largely indebted to the Government for their outfit, they can receive no money for several months, and have therefore none to pay into their messes unless they draw and sell extra clothing and small stores. To prevent this requires the closest scrutiny on the part of the divisional officers, which is not always given, and, in consequence, additional labor falls upon the executive. When the recruits fail to pay their assessments, either the other men in the messes are directly taxed for the deficiency, or the tradesmen nominally bear the loss, which, as before remarked, they recover through increased prices. Hence, recruits are an undesirable element in the messes, and it is always a source of daily trouble to keep them equally distributed and the messes equalized.
WHEN THE CREWS OF VESSELS UNDER REPAIRS ARE TRANSFERRED TO THE RECEIVING SHIP WITHOUT THEIR PAY ACCOUNTS.
As this frequently occurs, it was thought by many officers that it might not be practicable to conduct satisfactorily the two systems of messing in the same ship, in which event the system on trial would be a failure as far as receiving ships are concerned. This possibility had been duly considered, but as a practical test was the only means of determining the result, one was awaited with interest, and when it occurred it proved to be in the highest degree satisfactory. There was no hitch whatever, from the first to the last meal. On the contrary, it was found to be an advantage to the transferred crew, in giving them a larger share of the galley than they would have had otherwise. This latter crew kept its organization intact. The meals were served for all hands at the same hours.
THE SYSTEM AS ADAPTED FOR CRUISERS.
It would be neither practicable nor desirable to commute all the rations as for a receiving ship. It is proposed to commute no more than are ordinarily commuted in sea-going ships; but as all the men are to be in one mess, all the rations to be commuted shall go into the general mess fund, and the stores procured with this fund shall be kept in one place and under the control of the pantryman.
If it should be found that this does not give to the crew abundant and satisfactory fare, which I confidently believe it will, a much smaller assessment would undoubtedly be required to produce this result than under the old system. The sea stores will not be scattered about, unprotected except by tags to indicate ownership, and the mess chests may be kept absolutely clear of food. All the regulations applying to receiving ships, with the exception of commuting all rations, can be applied to cruising vessels with the same excellent results.
To perfect the organization requires at first a constant supervision and careful attention to all the details by the executive officer. When this is given, the system will, like any other matter of routine, soon drop into a satisfactory and labor-saving groove.
The advantages of the system are briefly as follows:
- It requires fewer mess attendants.
- It substitutes one efficient pantryman for a numerous body of inefficient and slovenly cooks.
- It facilitates clearing the tables and decks after meals.
- When boats' crews or working parties are late for meals, the least possible disturbance to the routine ensues, and the men on their return to the ship are properly served.
- For boat expeditions, or other duty requiring a prolonged absence from the ship, the most suitable mess stores for the occasion can be promptly supplied.
- All mess stores are kept in one place, and under the control of one man.
- No matter what transfers may take place in the crew, either in or out of the ship, the mess organization will not be affected by them.
Commander Frederick Rodgers.—Referring to the excellent paper of Lieutenant Delehanty upon the proposed system of messing the crews of vessels of the United States Navy, it may be proper for me to state that I am especially competent to pronounce it a success so far as receiving or stationary vessels are concerned, from the fact that I was in command of the Independence when the system under discussion was inaugurated in that vessel, and for a sufficient time afterward to enable me to observe the working of it and its general effect in reference to the discipline of the ship and the comfort of the men.
Lieutenant Delehanty has given a plain statement of the manner in which the change in the method of messing was introduced and carried on. During the time I had command of the Independence, several orders relating to the commutation of rations on board ship were issued, the effects of which were to leave the commanding officer very little discretion in the matter and afford little benefit to the crew. Finally, when a general order or circular was issued giving the commanding officers authority to commute rations as they might deem advisable, the idea of commuting them all suggested itself, and the results were:
- A great saving of food, or at least of the value of food, formerly wasted.
- Increased comfort and better food for the men.
- A decrease in the number of men required to attend the various messes and known as berth-deck cooks.
- In consequence of the more systematic arrangement of messing, a gain of time in preparing meals and clearing up the decks.
- A great comfort to the men and convenience to the executive and other officers when sending off detached parties. Men going off can be furnished with prepared food and with whatever may be best adapted to the occasion, from the general mess, whereas it has generally been customary to simply order that men take their rations with them. I have seen this done when, with no opportunity for cooking, the rations were almost useless.
- The practicability of placing recruits or men with no money on the same footing in the mess as the rest of the crew.
- That once started and fairly organized, the proposed system admits of expanding or contracting the mess arrangements to any reasonable extent, without confusion or inconvenience.
- A considerable saving to the Government.
It is well known that quantities of beef, pork, and other provisions which accumulate in store become spoiled from age, and a consequent loss is incurred. By the introduction of this system of messing, in stationary vessels, a considerable reduction in the amount of perishable stores bought annually for the Navy could be made. Further, the expense to the Government of transporting provisions over long distances is considerable, and if such provisions as are needed can be bought upon the spot for the amount of the ration allowance, the result is a considerable saving in the matter of freight payments.
It is admitted that the Independence is well adapted to this manner of messing, but not better, perhaps, than other receiving or stationary training ships. It requires considerable attention upon the part of the commanding and executive officers to inaugurate the change and to see that the details are properly carried out.
What I have stated refers only to receiving or stationary vessels, as it remains to be seen whether any such arrangements can be successfully carried out on board sea-going vessels.
The principal difficulty, I presume, in the matter would be want of space. It is quite clear, however, that improvement can be made in the present system, particularly in the galley arrangements and the character of the berth-deck cooks, who, as a rule, are allowed to handle the ration money of the messes—a fact that not infrequently leads to theft and desertion and to discomfort to the mess. A modification of the mess arrangement under discussion might be made to work on board cruising vessels, and there are certainly some of its features which could be introduced, particularly as regards cooks and messmen.
I will say, in conclusion, that my successor in command of the Independence, Commander John W. Philip, an officer of extended experience and excellent judgment, is emphatic in pronouncing the proposed system a success, and as he has had ample opportunity to observe its working, his estimate of it has great weight in confirming my own impressions.
Lieutenant Edward F. Qualtrough.—The advantages of the proposed system of messing ship's companies have been so clearly set forth by Lieutenant Delehanty, in the paper under discussion, that I shall confine my remarks to bearing testimony regarding the admirable manner in which the system worked on board the receiving ship Independence. I believe that all the officers who inspected its practical operation on board of that vessel were very favorably impressed by it, and the Board of Inspection made quite a lengthy report regarding it. While it has up to the present time, so far as I am aware, been tried only in receiving ships, there appears to be no good reason why it should not answer, with some slight modification, for regular cruising vessels. The proposed plan seems to me to breathe the true spirit of progress, and, if given a fair trial in actual service, it appears probable that all of the imaginary difficulties in the way of its general adoption may disappear.
Lieutenant Chas. Belknap.—I have read Lieutenant Delehanty's paper with a great deal of interest, and I think it will not be questioned that the plan of messing crews that he details is a great improvement over the present system, so far as receiving ships are concerned. The gain in cleanliness and comfort is apparent, and it may be noted that the proposed system is admirably adapted to the case of the men living in barracks, which all must hope will soon be substituted for the present antiquated and unsatisfactory receiving ships.
But when we come to ships in commission, the question at once arises, will the proposed system prove satisfactory? The conditions are so entirely different, the expenses of sea stores incidental to the numerous changes of position of a cruising ship are so much greater than for the daily food when in a fixed port, the desires of the sailors for food—from the old shellback who wants salt horse and hard tack daily, to his younger brother who wants fresh meat and soft tack—are so varied, that I must confess I prefer to have some one else make the experiment.
Perhaps there is some one present who may be able to give us his experience in regard to the matter, which is one of interest to all of us.
Lieutenant C. G. Calkins.—Lieutenant Delehanty has one great advantage over most of those who undertake the discussion of questions of naval organization and supply: he has been able to test his plan of reform by actual experiment. This gives his paper special value as a record of successful innovation. For the success of the experiment on board the Independence is as unquestionable as the importance of messing arrangements as factors of discipline and efficiency in the service.
The practical suggestions of this paper are no less valuable than its record of accomplished facts. The conclusion in favor of a general mess for harbor ships of all classes is supported not only by the experiment carried out at Mare Island, but also by the figures in regard to the contracts for feeding the marines in barracks at the various shore stations. The advantages of the proposed system for seamen in home ports can hardly be questioned. Its extension to cruisers will require consideration.
It must be admitted that a good system for messing the crews of sea-going men-of-war is of vital importance to their efficiency, and that our present methods are very imperfect. While men must sprawl about grimy mess cloths spread on damp decks, no ration, however generous in quantity, can make their meals comfortable or satisfactory. Now that we are to have ships built to satisfy modern requirements, we may hope to spread neat tables on well-lighted and ventilated decks. If the messing arrangements can be further improved to enable men to take advantage of local markets for fresh provisions, and to have them well cooked and well served, the service will be vastly benefited.
Satisfactory meals are matters of prime importance in morale as well as in hygiene. Upon them depends much of the seaman's attachment to his ship. To check desertion and to Americanize the Navy, we must assimilate our messes to the tables familiar to men of the classes which we desire to attract and to retain in the service. The single or general mess system will probably be adopted by school-ships and receiving ships, and recruits and apprentices will not easily reconcile themselves to the scrambling mess arrangements of sea-going ships, with assessments to keep them running.
There would seem to be reason for making the practicability of this system in cruising ships a matter of experiment. The practical difficulties may then be studied and perhaps eliminated. If one ship on each cruising station were directed to test the system thoroughly, and to report results in detail, a comparative study of their accounts, with those of vessels similarly employed under the old system, should lead to definite conclusions. A board of three officers disposed to give the proposition a fair trial should arrive at some practical result in a few months' time.
The proportion of rations to be commuted would require full consideration, as well as the allowances to be made to the general mess for articles not drawn for consumption. At present, seamen pay $2 or $3 monthly for their messes, and have hard bread and other provisions of considerable value undrawn without receiving any credit therefore. Some allowance should be made for stores which do not deteriorate and are not lost on account of the disinclination of the crew to consume them.
An objection may be based upon the assumed difficulty of fitting out parties of men for detached service from stores belonging to a general mess. But the present methods are so unsatisfactory that the problem of supplying expeditions needs to be worked out in detail on a new basis. It would seem that the necessary modifications would fit the proposed messing system quite as well as the one now in use.
It maybe best to establish an "ironclad ration" of cooked and concentrated food to be carried by each man sent on distant service. Or the problem may be solved by providing suitable water-proof packages of metal or tarpaulin for the component parts of the Navy ration, to be filled when occasion requires. The packages in which such goods are purchased and issued are usually unfit for handling in boats or on the march.
The supply of mess-gear for boats and landing parties should also be separated from the ordinary table furniture of the messes. Tin pots and pans made to nest in stowing and to be slung to the equipment for marching should be kept in readiness. The men should not be expected to forage from their messes for mess gear.
Improved and simplified cooking arrangements for boats and camps are also needed. With a proper marching ration, hot water is the only requisite for rough cooking. This should be supplied from a modified Russian samovar, heated by cakes of compressed charcoal burned in a central flue.
The foregoing suggestions may serve to show the nature of the problems upon the solution of which the equipment of boats depends. It is intended to show that no argument against a general mess can be based upon the equipment of detachments for distant service.
Of course the proposed system must stand on its own merits, which have been clearly stated by Lieutenant Delehanty in his concluding paragraphs.
Commander Joshua Bishop.—The mess arrangements on board of naval vessels is a subject of the greatest importance. The discussion of this topic cannot do otherwise than conduce to more economical and better facilities than exist at the present time. The paper submitted to the Naval Institute by Lieutenant Delehanty, U. S. Navy, is a timely and valuable one. The effort made to solve this question on board the U.S.R.S. Independence should be commended.
Every officer and person in the naval service on board ship has his place and duties assigned him, and is furnished with one ration. The rations of officers and of a limited number of the crew may be commuted into money at thirty cents a day. Stewards, cooks and servants are provided for the service of officers at the expense of the Government. Yeomen and their assistants, cooks, and a detail of one man from each mess, are provided to issue, receive, provide and serve the rations to the crew.
The great difficulty met with in feeding the crew is, in not having a proper person to direct in the converting of this ration into palatable dishes, in the methods and in the times of service of the food to the crews of vessels.
In the service of the officers' messes there is a very expensive and inharmonious method of feeding a few people. Economy in servants, in expense to individuals, and more efficiency are desirable.
Our merchant marine have one officer, the Purser, whose duty is to care for the commissariat of the vessel.
The captain, other officers, and the crew are provided with food in designated places, at the expense of the vessel.
This duty of superintendence of issue, of cooking, and of service of the ration can be assigned to the Pay Corps of the Navy, and by the same methods as are practiced on board of large passenger steamers.
There are many reasons why it would be advisable for the Government to subsist the officers as well as the crews of vessels.
There need be no change in the place of messing of the captain, officers, or crew of the vessel.
Do away with the present system of ration, with the methods of commutation and stopped ration, and with private mess funds, fees to cooks, and in its place provide that the officers and crew of vessels be subsisted by the Government under the direction of the Pay Officer of the vessel. The provisions, stores, mess and cooking fixtures, and table arrangements, to be in charge of, and that all servants be under the direction of, the Pay Officer of the vessel, for mess purposes.
Provide by regulation for suitable bills of fare for different messes, the times of messing, and duration of the meal hour—the old "meal hour" to be done away with. The crew shall not be sent to meals at one time.
The messing hour for each crew-mess to be designated, and at this time the mess to be formed in line under the direction of an officer and marched to table, ample time being given for the meal. During the time they are under this formation they shall not be called on for service on deck. The smoking lamp to be lighted, except during drill hours, when all hands are called, or after 9 P.M.
The crew of vessels to be arranged in classes for messing, the servants to form a class, and to be provided with meals, so that they may be ready to serve the others.
Provision can be made by naval regulation for the entertainment of guests, official or private, by the captain or other officers.
The day should be divided into periods—hours for meals, hours for cleaning up, or preparation of meals, and of hours for drills, so that during drill hours the whole force may be available.
Early coffee, 4.30 to 5 A.M. Breakfast, 7 to 8.30 A.M. Morning drill hour, 9.30 to 11 A.M. Dinner, 12.30 to 2 P.M. Afternoon drill hour, 3 to 4.30 P.M.; and supper, 6 to 7.30 P.M.
The working hours for the crew are at all times except the designated messing hours or when at quarters.