Meals on the Mess Deck

David Lance the history of food in the Royal Navy, from canteen messing to professional catering.

From the late 1920s the Royal Navy began to introduce aboard HM ships a system of catering known as ‘general messing’. The main features of this system were that all meals aboard the ship were centrally prepared and served in a general dining room managed by a professional cooks’ branch. Another characteristic was that sailors no longer had to purchase daily food from their own pockets.

These changes were much for the good. Cooks were professionally trained for the first time, bringing specialist skills to the preparation of food and removing domestic chores from the hands of sailors in the other branches. Above all, the Admiralty henceforward met the full cost of feeding its seamen. The new arrangements were dramatically different from the earlier system of ‘canteen messing’ which had been a feature of life aboard Royal Naval ships since 1797. Under the canteen messing system, sailors took their meals in the same areas as they lived and slept - on the mess decks.

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