Saturday, 25 January 2014

In the Mess

 Inspired by his visits to the Mess of the British Household Troops at Windsor, le Colonel Fleury introduced the British-style 'Mess' first to the Regiment des Guides, and then to the Imperial Guard. The introduction of the Mess sytem to the Imperial Guard fostered - as it did in Britain - a tight bond between the Officers and a far greater Esprit de Corps than in the Line. Officers of the Guard were also encouraged to behave as 'gentlement' and were therefore allowed to marry: something considered undesirable for an officer of the Line. The Officers of the Guard were to set an example of 'Good conduct' to the rest of the Army. The Mess system and privileges such as being allowed to marry were intended to be aspirational. In reality, the Guard cut itself off from the Line, thinking itself better, jealously guarded its privileges leading to the Line harbouring resentment toward it.


Marcel de Baillehache, who enlisted as a volunteer in the Lanciers de la Garde left a striking impression of the mess in his memoires. 

"The Colonel Beville invited us to Dinner at Saint-Germaine where the Officers had the mess, situated in the Avenue de Boulingrin, in a very beautiful brick and stone house in the style of Louis XIII... one noticed a large 'N' carved in the stone above the door. ...

This Mess of the Guard was very superior , and the service left nothing to be desired. The servants were very numerable, in the most part men from the Regiment, wearing a sky blue livery with gold buttons and, on the day of a Grand Reception or a Gala, wore short white breeches, white stockings and buckled shoes.  At the time to eat, a servant would stand by the doors and the Maitre d'Hotel, dressed all in black, would advance in front of them an announce 'Le Colonel et ces messieurs a service.'"

'Grand Receptions' were held once per month, hosted by the Colonel with many invited guests. On one occasion, Alexandre Dumas was hosted by the Zouaves de la Garde. Le Capitaine Richard describes them as

"Veritable fetes, where the Band of the Regiment, sometimes assisted by civilian artists, singers or actors of renown, came to be heard. These receptions were ordinarily held once per month, on a proscribed day, where all the officers, both single and married, were  reunited."

  Standing order by Commandant Ogier D'Yvry of the Guides states how the mess was to be funded:

 "In the Guides, the Officers are paid by the month; the Colonel 113 Francs, the Lieutenant-Colonel 103 Francs, the Chef d'Escadrons, the Major, the Medecin-Major 1er Classe 93 Francs, the First Class Captains, the  Medecin-Major 2e Classe 83 Francs; the Second Class Captains, the First Lieutenants 70 Francs and the Second Lieutenants or Sub-Lieutenants  67 Francs. 
A days' pay was used each month to provide materiel for the mess. 

On the other hand, every officer newly joining the Regiment had to spend twenty day's pay, according to his rank, to the mess. Every Sub-Lieutenant promoted to Lieutenant, every Lieutenant promoted to Captain or Captain promoted to First Captain had to pay three days' pay.  Every new Chevalier de la Legion had to pay four days' pay; an Officier de la Legion d'honneur six and a Commandeur eight."

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