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Don's primer on messes, squads and platoons

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  • Don N. Hagist
    The information below is my primer on messes, squads, platoons and companies, based on reading a lot of period texts, courts martial, and other documents. To
    Message 1 of 6 , Aug 1, 2008
      The information below is my 'primer' on messes, squads, platoons and
      companies, based on reading a lot of period texts, courts martial, and
      other documents. To understand this well, we must first clear our
      heads by accepting these ground rules:

      - Regiments could do things the way they wanted, so there is no set of
      'rules' that invariably applies
      - There is no relationship whatsoever between squads and platoons,
      between messes and platoons, or between squards and messes. All of
      these enties could exist within a company, but were not necessarily
      logically related to each other.

      That said:

      - A mess is a group of men who share the same tent and kettle (and
      other camp equipage issued in a quantity of 1 item to a group of men).
      In most cases the mess consisted of five men (in most cases regiments
      were issued one tent per five men). The mess might also include wives
      of married soldiers. These men eat and sleep together, but that might
      be all they do together. These men were all from the same company.
      They drew food together (although rations were calculated on a 'per
      man' basis, food was actually distributed per mess, and the men of the
      mess divided it up after cooking).
      On British company muster rolls (in the WO 12 collection), the names
      are often listed in groups of five. Some people interpret this to be a
      listing of the messes, but there is ample reason to doubt this
      interpretation (which I'll be happy to discuss if anyone is
      interested). More likely it was just to make the rolls easier to read.
      I don't know the derivation of the term 'mess'.

      - A squad was a group of men assigned to the care of a
      non-commissioned officer within a company. Military texts by Thomas
      Simes and Bennett Cuthbertson describe the assignment of squads as a
      handy way to make sure that each man has an NCO to oversee his hygene
      and the care of his clothing and accoutrements. Cuthbertson's writing
      on the subject appears below, and it is key to notice that he calls
      them Squads of Inspection, which gives a strong suggestion of the
      purpose of these squads.
      The texts often suggest dividing the men of a company evenly by the
      number of NCOs in the company. Simes suggests that squads be organized
      based on the rank in which men form (that is, three squads, one each
      for the front, center and rear ranks). Cuthbertson recommends forming
      squads based on the experience of the soldiers, so that each squad
      contains a good proportion of new men and seasoned men. The one actual
      squad roll that I've seen (from a company orderly book of the 28th
      Regiment of Foot) has the company divided into three squads in the
      following manner: The names of the men are written in three columns,
      proceeding alphabetically from left to right:
      Adams Baker Costello
      Downs Eagan Finnerty
      etc.
      Each column is a squad under an NCO (see my write-up on this in The
      Brigade Dispatch Vol. 21 No. 2).
      The squad has no tactical application whatsoever.
      We might assume that a squad contained a fixed number of messes, but
      there is no basis for this assumption. The two enties appear to be
      completely unrelated.

      - A platoon is a tactical subdivision of a company - in fact, they are
      often called 'subdivisions' (and a 'grand division' was two
      companies). Whether a company has two, three or four platoons depends
      upon which set of procedures you're reading. Whether they're commanded
      by officers or NCOs likely depends upon who was actually available on
      the field, but I would suspect the intent was to have officers
      commanding platoons. The only way to get a sense of what was 'typical'
      is to read a number of manuals and military texts, because different
      authors had different ideas about this.

      All of the above statements are generalities. We can of course find
      specific instances that do not conform.
      Don N. Hagist
      22d Regt. F.

      Information on squads, from 'A System for the Complete Interior
      Management and Economy of a Battalion of Infantry', Bennett
      Cuthbertson, 1768. Reprinted 1776, 1779:

      I.
      The use of forming Companies into as many Squads of inspection, as it
      has Serjeants and Corporals, is proved by those regiments, who have
      practiced that method, and will appear in a very advantageous light,
      on many occasions; as by it the irregularity of the soldiers is
      considerably restrained, their dress improved, and the Discipline of
      the regiment, in general, most remarkably forwarded.

      II.
      In forming Squads, an equal proportion must be given to each of sober,
      good men, and those of a contrary turn, that the first may be an
      example to the others; and that the Serjeants and Corporals, by having
      only an equal weight of trouble, and but a few Men under their
      particular inspection, may exert their care the more, in reducing them
      to proper Regulations; besides, as every Serjeant and Corporal should
      be made answerable for the Behaviour and Dress of the soldiers, in his
      Squad (if proceeding from the smallest inattention on his part) of
      course, the Officers can have all Neglects and Irregularities
      accounted for much sooner, by knowing on whom at once to fix the
      blame, than if the Men were indiscriminately under the care of all the
      Non-commission-officers in the Company.

      III.
      It must be the study of a Non-commission Officer, to inform himself of
      the different dispositions of the Men in his Squad, that he may the
      better know, in what manner to treat them, as all tempers are not to
      be managed by the same methods.

      IV.
      Every Officer should have a roll of his Company, by Squads, that
      whenever he sees any thing wrong in the appearance, or conduct of the
      Men, he may the more readily know, to which of the Serjeants or
      Corporals he is to apply, for its being so.

      V.
      If a Serjeant or Corporal is on duty, which may detain him from the
      inspection of his Squad, a day or two only, the one senior to him of
      the same rank should take charge of it, in the same manner as his own;
      but when the absent one is senior to the whole, the junior of the same
      rank is to be employed ; and if a Serjeant, or Corporal is engaged in
      the Recruiting-service, or on any duty which may require his absence
      for some time, or in a case of sickness, the private Man who is
      appointed to act as Lance-Corporal, must have the inspection and care
      of his Squad, with all the power and authority over it, as if he was a
      full one.

      VI.
      Although the Drum-major is answerable for the Dress and Behaviour of
      the Drummers, and the Fife-major for that of the Fifers, yet they
      should be appointed to Squads in their respective Companies, on
      account of messing, quartering, and having their necessaries
      inspected, as a Non-commission-officer must attend to them in those
      particulars only.
    • Larry Davis
      I was taught in high school German,  that mess was derived from the German word for knife, das messer. Anyone know enough old or middle English that might
      Message 2 of 6 , Aug 3, 2008
        I was taught in high school German,  that "mess" was derived from the German word for knife, das messer. Anyone know enough old or middle English that might indicate that relationship? My teacher back then was a linguitics major from Middlebury College who often gave us the etiology of German and English words.
        Larry Davis



        ----- Original Message ----
        From: Don N. Hagist <dhagist@...>
        To: Revlist@yahoogroups.com
        Sent: Friday, August 1, 2008 11:19:56 AM
        Subject: [Revlist] Don's primer on messes, squads and platoons


        The information below is my 'primer' on messes, squads, platoons and
        companies, based on reading a lot of period texts, courts martial, and
        other documents. To understand this well, we must first clear our
        heads by accepting these ground rules:

        - Regiments could do things the way they wanted, so there is no set of
        'rules' that invariably applies
        - There is no relationship whatsoever between squads and platoons,
        between messes and platoons, or between squards and messes. All of
        these enties could exist within a company, but were not necessarily
        logically related to each other.

        That said:

        - A mess is a group of men who share the same tent and kettle (and
        other camp equipage issued in a quantity of 1 item to a group of men).
        In most cases the mess consisted of five men (in most cases regiments
        were issued one tent per five men). The mess might also include wives
        of married soldiers. These men eat and sleep together, but that might
        be all they do together. These men were all from the same company.
        They drew food together (although rations were calculated on a 'per
        man' basis, food was actually distributed per mess, and the men of the
        mess divided it up after cooking).
        On British company muster rolls (in the WO 12 collection), the names
        are often listed in groups of five. Some people interpret this to be a
        listing of the messes, but there is ample reason to doubt this
        interpretation (which I'll be happy to discuss if anyone is
        interested). More likely it was just to make the rolls easier to read.
        I don't know the derivation of the term 'mess'.

        - A squad was a group of men assigned to the care of a
        non-commissioned officer within a company. Military texts by Thomas
        Simes and Bennett Cuthbertson describe the assignment of squads as a
        handy way to make sure that each man has an NCO to oversee his hygene
        and the care of his clothing and accoutrements. Cuthbertson' s writing
        on the subject appears below, and it is key to notice that he calls
        them Squads of Inspection, which gives a strong suggestion of the
        purpose of these squads.
        The texts often suggest dividing the men of a company evenly by the
        number of NCOs in the company. Simes suggests that squads be organized
        based on the rank in which men form (that is, three squads, one each
        for the front, center and rear ranks). Cuthbertson recommends forming
        squads based on the experience of the soldiers, so that each squad
        contains a good proportion of new men and seasoned men. The one actual
        squad roll that I've seen (from a company orderly book of the 28th
        Regiment of Foot) has the company divided into three squads in the
        following manner: The names of the men are written in three columns,
        proceeding alphabetically from left to right:
        Adams Baker Costello
        Downs Eagan Finnerty
        etc.
        Each column is a squad under an NCO (see my write-up on this in The
        Brigade Dispatch Vol. 21 No. 2).
        The squad has no tactical application whatsoever.
        We might assume that a squad contained a fixed number of messes, but
        there is no basis for this assumption. The two enties appear to be
        completely unrelated.

        - A platoon is a tactical subdivision of a company - in fact, they are
        often called 'subdivisions' (and a 'grand division' was two
        companies). Whether a company has two, three or four platoons depends
        upon which set of procedures you're reading. Whether they're commanded
        by officers or NCOs likely depends upon who was actually available on
        the field, but I would suspect the intent was to have officers
        commanding platoons. The only way to get a sense of what was 'typical'
        is to read a number of manuals and military texts, because different
        authors had different ideas about this.

        All of the above statements are generalities. We can of course find
        specific instances that do not conform.
        Don N. Hagist
        22d Regt. F.

        Information on squads, from 'A System for the Complete Interior
        Management and Economy of a Battalion of Infantry', Bennett
        Cuthbertson, 1768. Reprinted 1776, 1779:

        I.
        The use of forming Companies into as many Squads of inspection, as it
        has Serjeants and Corporals, is proved by those regiments, who have
        practiced that method, and will appear in a very advantageous light,
        on many occasions; as by it the irregularity of the soldiers is
        considerably restrained, their dress improved, and the Discipline of
        the regiment, in general, most remarkably forwarded.

        II.
        In forming Squads, an equal proportion must be given to each of sober,
        good men, and those of a contrary turn, that the first may be an
        example to the others; and that the Serjeants and Corporals, by having
        only an equal weight of trouble, and but a few Men under their
        particular inspection, may exert their care the more, in reducing them
        to proper Regulations; besides, as every Serjeant and Corporal should
        be made answerable for the Behaviour and Dress of the soldiers, in his
        Squad (if proceeding from the smallest inattention on his part) of
        course, the Officers can have all Neglects and Irregularities
        accounted for much sooner, by knowing on whom at once to fix the
        blame, than if the Men were indiscriminately under the care of all the
        Non-commission- officers in the Company.

        III.
        It must be the study of a Non-commission Officer, to inform himself of
        the different dispositions of the Men in his Squad, that he may the
        better know, in what manner to treat them, as all tempers are not to
        be managed by the same methods.

        IV.
        Every Officer should have a roll of his Company, by Squads, that
        whenever he sees any thing wrong in the appearance, or conduct of the
        Men, he may the more readily know, to which of the Serjeants or
        Corporals he is to apply, for its being so.

        V.
        If a Serjeant or Corporal is on duty, which may detain him from the
        inspection of his Squad, a day or two only, the one senior to him of
        the same rank should take charge of it, in the same manner as his own;
        but when the absent one is senior to the whole, the junior of the same
        rank is to be employed ; and if a Serjeant, or Corporal is engaged in
        the Recruiting-service, or on any duty which may require his absence
        for some time, or in a case of sickness, the private Man who is
        appointed to act as Lance-Corporal, must have the inspection and care
        of his Squad, with all the power and authority over it, as if he was a
        full one.

        VI.
        Although the Drum-major is answerable for the Dress and Behaviour of
        the Drummers, and the Fife-major for that of the Fifers, yet they
        should be appointed to Squads in their respective Companies, on
        account of messing, quartering, and having their necessaries
        inspected, as a Non-commission- officer must attend to them in those
        particulars only.



        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Bryan Wise
        I had heard it came from the Spanish mesa , meaning table .....since we eat together in messes . Bryan Wise ... From: Larry Davis To:
        Message 3 of 6 , Aug 3, 2008
          I had heard it came from the Spanish "mesa", meaning "table".....since we eat together in "messes".
          Bryan Wise
          ----- Original Message -----
          From: Larry Davis
          To: Revlist@yahoogroups.com
          Sent: Sunday, August 03, 2008 10:40 AM
          Subject: Re: [Revlist] Don's primer on messes, squads and platoons


          I was taught in high school German, that "mess" was derived from the German word for knife, das messer. Anyone know enough old or middle English that might indicate that relationship? My teacher back then was a linguitics major from Middlebury College who often gave us the etiology of German and English words.
          Larry Davis

          ----- Original Message ----
          From: Don N. Hagist <dhagist@...>
          To: Revlist@yahoogroups.com
          Sent: Friday, August 1, 2008 11:19:56 AM
          Subject: [Revlist] Don's primer on messes, squads and platoons

          The information below is my 'primer' on messes, squads, platoons and
          companies, based on reading a lot of period texts, courts martial, and
          other documents. To understand this well, we must first clear our
          heads by accepting these ground rules:

          - Regiments could do things the way they wanted, so there is no set of
          'rules' that invariably applies
          - There is no relationship whatsoever between squads and platoons,
          between messes and platoons, or between squards and messes. All of
          these enties could exist within a company, but were not necessarily
          logically related to each other.

          That said:

          - A mess is a group of men who share the same tent and kettle (and
          other camp equipage issued in a quantity of 1 item to a group of men).
          In most cases the mess consisted of five men (in most cases regiments
          were issued one tent per five men). The mess might also include wives
          of married soldiers. These men eat and sleep together, but that might
          be all they do together. These men were all from the same company.
          They drew food together (although rations were calculated on a 'per
          man' basis, food was actually distributed per mess, and the men of the
          mess divided it up after cooking).
          On British company muster rolls (in the WO 12 collection), the names
          are often listed in groups of five. Some people interpret this to be a
          listing of the messes, but there is ample reason to doubt this
          interpretation (which I'll be happy to discuss if anyone is
          interested). More likely it was just to make the rolls easier to read.
          I don't know the derivation of the term 'mess'.

          - A squad was a group of men assigned to the care of a
          non-commissioned officer within a company. Military texts by Thomas
          Simes and Bennett Cuthbertson describe the assignment of squads as a
          handy way to make sure that each man has an NCO to oversee his hygene
          and the care of his clothing and accoutrements. Cuthbertson' s writing
          on the subject appears below, and it is key to notice that he calls
          them Squads of Inspection, which gives a strong suggestion of the
          purpose of these squads.
          The texts often suggest dividing the men of a company evenly by the
          number of NCOs in the company. Simes suggests that squads be organized
          based on the rank in which men form (that is, three squads, one each
          for the front, center and rear ranks). Cuthbertson recommends forming
          squads based on the experience of the soldiers, so that each squad
          contains a good proportion of new men and seasoned men. The one actual
          squad roll that I've seen (from a company orderly book of the 28th
          Regiment of Foot) has the company divided into three squads in the
          following manner: The names of the men are written in three columns,
          proceeding alphabetically from left to right:
          Adams Baker Costello
          Downs Eagan Finnerty
          etc.
          Each column is a squad under an NCO (see my write-up on this in The
          Brigade Dispatch Vol. 21 No. 2).
          The squad has no tactical application whatsoever.
          We might assume that a squad contained a fixed number of messes, but
          there is no basis for this assumption. The two enties appear to be
          completely unrelated.

          - A platoon is a tactical subdivision of a company - in fact, they are
          often called 'subdivisions' (and a 'grand division' was two
          companies). Whether a company has two, three or four platoons depends
          upon which set of procedures you're reading. Whether they're commanded
          by officers or NCOs likely depends upon who was actually available on
          the field, but I would suspect the intent was to have officers
          commanding platoons. The only way to get a sense of what was 'typical'
          is to read a number of manuals and military texts, because different
          authors had different ideas about this.

          All of the above statements are generalities. We can of course find
          specific instances that do not conform.
          Don N. Hagist
          22d Regt. F.

          Information on squads, from 'A System for the Complete Interior
          Management and Economy of a Battalion of Infantry', Bennett
          Cuthbertson, 1768. Reprinted 1776, 1779:

          I.
          The use of forming Companies into as many Squads of inspection, as it
          has Serjeants and Corporals, is proved by those regiments, who have
          practiced that method, and will appear in a very advantageous light,
          on many occasions; as by it the irregularity of the soldiers is
          considerably restrained, their dress improved, and the Discipline of
          the regiment, in general, most remarkably forwarded.

          II.
          In forming Squads, an equal proportion must be given to each of sober,
          good men, and those of a contrary turn, that the first may be an
          example to the others; and that the Serjeants and Corporals, by having
          only an equal weight of trouble, and but a few Men under their
          particular inspection, may exert their care the more, in reducing them
          to proper Regulations; besides, as every Serjeant and Corporal should
          be made answerable for the Behaviour and Dress of the soldiers, in his
          Squad (if proceeding from the smallest inattention on his part) of
          course, the Officers can have all Neglects and Irregularities
          accounted for much sooner, by knowing on whom at once to fix the
          blame, than if the Men were indiscriminately under the care of all the
          Non-commission- officers in the Company.

          III.
          It must be the study of a Non-commission Officer, to inform himself of
          the different dispositions of the Men in his Squad, that he may the
          better know, in what manner to treat them, as all tempers are not to
          be managed by the same methods.

          IV.
          Every Officer should have a roll of his Company, by Squads, that
          whenever he sees any thing wrong in the appearance, or conduct of the
          Men, he may the more readily know, to which of the Serjeants or
          Corporals he is to apply, for its being so.

          V.
          If a Serjeant or Corporal is on duty, which may detain him from the
          inspection of his Squad, a day or two only, the one senior to him of
          the same rank should take charge of it, in the same manner as his own;
          but when the absent one is senior to the whole, the junior of the same
          rank is to be employed ; and if a Serjeant, or Corporal is engaged in
          the Recruiting-service, or on any duty which may require his absence
          for some time, or in a case of sickness, the private Man who is
          appointed to act as Lance-Corporal, must have the inspection and care
          of his Squad, with all the power and authority over it, as if he was a
          full one.

          VI.
          Although the Drum-major is answerable for the Dress and Behaviour of
          the Drummers, and the Fife-major for that of the Fifers, yet they
          should be appointed to Squads in their respective Companies, on
          account of messing, quartering, and having their necessaries
          inspected, as a Non-commission- officer must attend to them in those
          particulars only.

          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]





          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • hm95thfoot
          From the Online Etymology Dictionary (http://dictionary.reference.com/help/etymon.html): mess c.1300, food for one meal, pottage, from O.Fr. mes portion of
          Message 4 of 6 , Aug 3, 2008
            From the Online Etymology Dictionary
            (http://dictionary.reference.com/help/etymon.html):

            mess

            c.1300, "food for one meal, pottage," from O.Fr. mes "portion of food,
            course at dinner," from L.L. missus "course at dinner," lit. "placing,
            putting (on a table, etc.)," from mittere "to put, place," from L.
            mittere "to send, let go" (see mission). Sense of "mixed food" led to
            contemptuous use for "jumble, mixed mass" (1828), and figurative sense
            of "state of confusion" (1834), as well as "condition of untidiness"
            (1851). Meaning "communal eating place"(esp. a military one) is first
            attested 1536, from earlier sense of "company of persons eating
            together" (c.1420), originally a group of four. (snip)

            RWF
          • Bryan Wise
            Thank you very much for the definition...I will certainly file that one away! Bryan Wise ... From: hm95thfoot To: Revlist@yahoogroups.com Sent: Sunday, August
            Message 5 of 6 , Aug 3, 2008
              Thank you very much for the definition...I will certainly file that one away!
              Bryan Wise
              ----- Original Message -----
              From: hm95thfoot
              To: Revlist@yahoogroups.com
              Sent: Sunday, August 03, 2008 10:18 PM
              Subject: [Revlist] Re: messes


              From the Online Etymology Dictionary
              (http://dictionary.reference.com/help/etymon.html):

              mess

              c.1300, "food for one meal, pottage," from O.Fr. mes "portion of food,
              course at dinner," from L.L. missus "course at dinner," lit. "placing,
              putting (on a table, etc.)," from mittere "to put, place," from L.
              mittere "to send, let go" (see mission). Sense of "mixed food" led to
              contemptuous use for "jumble, mixed mass" (1828), and figurative sense
              of "state of confusion" (1834), as well as "condition of untidiness"
              (1851). Meaning "communal eating place"(esp. a military one) is first
              attested 1536, from earlier sense of "company of persons eating
              together" (c.1420), originally a group of four. (snip)

              RWF





              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • Matt Nelson
              From the Oxford English Dictionary Mess n Anglo-Norman mes, mees, messe, Old French mes portion of food (mid 12th cent.; Middle French, French mets dish, food)
              Message 6 of 6 , Aug 4, 2008
                From the Oxford English Dictionary
                Mess n


                Anglo-Norman mes, mees, messe, Old French mes portion of food (mid
                12th cent.; Middle French, French mets dish, food) < post-classical
                Latin missus portion of food, course of a meal (4th cent.), spec. use
                of classical Latin missus, lit. `sending' < the Indo-European base of
                mittere to send (see MISSION n.) + the Indo-European base of -tus,
                suffix forming verbal nouns. Compare Italian (arch.) messo course of
                a meal (14th cent.).
                All senses other than the primary sense `portion of food' appear to
                be English developments. French mess military refectory (1831;
                compare sense 5b) is a borrowing from English.
                Late Middle English variation in the quantity of the stem vowel
                between short and long open (as well as subsequent raising of the
                latter) is shown by such Middle English and later forms as mease,
                meisse, meesse, mase. This variation is common in borrowings from
                French, esp. before sibilants.

                I. A portion of food, and related senses.

                1. a. A serving of food; a course; a meal; a prepared dish of a
                specified kind of food. Also fig. Now hist. and Eng. regional (except
                as merging into sense 2a).
                Figurative uses of this sense (for example, quots. 1570, a1764) are
                often indistinguishable from the more pejorative senses 2c and 3a.

                b. The quantity of milk given by a cow at one milking. Now U.S.
                regional (chiefly New England).

                c. A quantity (of meat, fruit, etc.) sufficient to make a dish.
                Now U.S. regional.

                d. Chiefly U.S. A take or haul of fish, esp. one sufficient to
                provide a meal.

                e. regional (N. Amer. and Brit.). A (usually large) quantity or
                number of something.

                2. a. A portion or serving of liquid or pulpy food such as milk,
                broth, porridge, boiled vegetables, etc.
                The expression a mess of pottage, alluding to the biblical story of
                Esau's sale of his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34), does not occur in
                the Authorized Version of the Bible (1611), although it is found in
                this context as early as c1452 (see quot.). It appears in the heading
                of Chapter 25 in the Bibles of 1537 and 1539, and in the Geneva Bible
                of 1560. Coverdale (1535) does not use the phrase, either in the text
                or the chapter heading (his words being `meace of meate', `meace of
                ryse'), but he has it in 1 Chronicles 16:3 and Proverbs 15:7.

                b. A kind of liquid or mixed food for an animal; a quantity of
                this. Obs.

                c. An unappetizing, unpalatable, or disgusting dish or
                concoction; an ill-assorted mixture of any kind, a hotchpotch.

                3. a. fig. A situation or state of affairs that is confused or
                presents numerous difficulties; a troubled or embarrassed state or
                condition; a predicament.

                b. A dirty or untidy state of things or of a place; a collection
                of disordered things, producing such a state.

                c. to make a mess of: (a) to bungle or badly mishandle (an
                undertaking); (b) to put into a disordered, dirty, or otherwise
                imperfect state.

                d. colloq. A person who is dirty or untidy in appearance; (fig.)
                a person whose life or affairs are disorganized, esp. due to the
                influence of drink or drugs used habitually; an ineffectual or
                incompetent person.

                e. colloq. (euphem.). Excrement, esp. that of an animal deposited
                in an inappropriate place. Esp. in to make a mess.

                f. colloq. (chiefly U.S.). Nonsense, rubbish; insolence, abuse.

                4. U.S. regional (chiefly south Midland). An entertaining, witty,
                or puzzling person.

                II. A company of people eating together.

                5. a. Originally: any of the small groups, normally of four
                people sitting together and served from the same dishes, into which
                the company at a banquet was usually divided (now only with reference
                to benchers' and law-students' dinners at the English Inns of Court).
                Hence: any company of persons, esp. members of an institution or
                professional body, who regularly take their meals together.
                Now used chiefly in Mil. contexts (see sense 5b), in Law (where in
                England the term continues to be applied to a dinner held by the
                local bar for the benefit of judges on circuit), and in some English
                public schools.

                b. Each of the groups into which a military unit or ship's
                company is divided, the members of each group taking their meals
                together. Later also: the place where meals are taken by such groups;
                a place where personnel, esp. of similar rank, regularly eat or take
                recreation together (also occas. in non-military contexts).
                Recorded earliest in nautical contexts.
                to lose (or settle) the number of one's mess: see NUMBER n. Phrases
                5.

                c. Chiefly Mil. Without article. Mealtime, or a meal, which takes
                place at a mess.

                d. gen. A communal meal. Cf. TABLE n. 6b. Obs.

                6. gen. A company or group of four persons or things. Obs.

                7. U.S. Short for mess beef n. at Compounds 2. Obs.

                8. Short for mess-boy n. at Compounds 2. Chiefly used in the
                vocative.
                -----------------------------------------------


                Maybe that helps?

                Matt Nelson
                Claus' Rangers
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