On May 9, the Agassiz Legion wants to give local servicemen and women a chance to revive a military custom: the mess dinner.
“I don’t think anybody’s gone through a career (in the military) and not had at least one mess dinner,” said Steve Norton, Legion service officer and Navy veteran.
The mess dinner is a formal meal, with everyone attending in full uniform and the mess president’s gavel taking the position of authority. But it’s also a meal full of jokes and sly pranks within the formal atmosphere.
“Everyone attempts to steal the gavel, in which case they can take authority,” Norton said. “It may on the surface look like a very formal, stuffy affair. Down deep it’s really a lot of fun if you do it right, and people have the right attitudes.”
“It hasn’t done it as formal as the military does it,” he added. “But it’s enough to give people a recollection of what they used to do and the fun they used to have.”
This year’s dinner won’t be the first time the Legion has hosted a mess dinner for veterans in Agassiz, Harrison and the surrounding communities. It’s an annual event, usually taking place on a military anniversary.
“The three we’ve done lately is the Battle of Britain, Sept. 15. A couple of years ago we did Vimy Ridge. D-Day last year,” Norton said. “And now we’re going to do the Battle of the Atlantic, which is the longest campaign of the (Second World) War.”
Although the dinner is a chance to commemorate historic events like the Battle of the Atlantic, it’s also a chance for veterans to get together and support one another.
“It’s not that we all served together in the same units or anything, but we’ve got a common bond,” Norton said.
“That’s one of the reasons the Legion was really important,” he added. “It was started after the First World War … to give servicemen that had that sense of loss, after leaving, somewhere to go to put things back together.
“It wasn’t the idea that a bunch of guys would get together, play darts and drink beer. That kind of grew on the side. In the long run it was a support network for each other.”
By getting veterans out to the annual dinner, Norton said, they can connect with others who went through similar experiences and learn more about services available to them.
Last year, the dinner saw around 80 veterans sit down for the meal in the Legion, with people who had served in wars from the Second World War to Afghanistan.
The Battle of the Atlantic dinner is free for all veterans in the area, regardless of Legion membership. Cocktails start at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 9, with a buffet dinner at 7 p.m.
Anyone interested in attending should contact the Legion (604-796-2332) or Norton (604-491-4914). All RSVPs must be made no later than April 28.