Navy modernises formal dinner toasts

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2013

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One of the Navy's more sexist traditions has been quietly done away with but they've kept one of the bloodiest customs in which officers call for death and sickness among the higher ranks.

The Royal New Zealand Navy has followed the older Royal Navy to revise its formal dinner toasts taken each night in ship messes. Many ships, when at sea, retain the custom in the officers' mess of formal dinner in dress uniforms.

The official Saturday toast used to be "to sweethearts and wives!" and by unofficial tradition used to draw the repost "and may they never meet." But no longer; the new toast is "Our partners".

The navy's protocol officer Lieutenant Commander Roger Saynor said they needed to "reflect the realities of our navy today."

Partners instead of sweethearts reflects "the realities of the current relationships our people have, while remaining true to the original intent of acknowledging those closest to us".

The toasts came from the days of sail and are an important part of the navy and will not be removed.

"We must also remember that the toasts themselves are just part of this heritage, the stories that go around them are also very important."

Monday's "To Our Ships at Sea!" has dropped the part about being at sea, which, says Saynor, more accurately acknowledges ships at sea, the wharf and shore establishments.

Tuesday's "To Our Men!" is now "Our People" to honour sailors and civilians in a non-gender way.

Wednesday's toast "To Ourselves" has been retained - along with the usual rejoinder "as no-one else is likely to concern themselves with our welfare".

Oddly, both navies have retained the Thursday toast: "A Bloody War or a Sickly Season".

It owes its origins to the way in which promotions were slow for officers in peace, while in war the lower ranks could quickly move up as superiors were slaughtered.

Friday's toast remains: "A willing foe and sea room."

In the days of sail and the Royal Navy ruling the world's waves, crews often wanted a fight at sea in order to pick up loot to supplement their meagre pay.

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- Sunday Star Times

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