Air Force Life


King George VI (right) presents the Distinguished Flying Cross to F/L James Harold O’Neill of 426 Squadron.

The distinction between orders, decorations and medals is sometimes hard to judge; particularly when some decorations are called medals and some medals are called decorations!

Orders are societies of merit that recognize outstanding achievement and exceptional service over the course of a career or a life — think of the Order of Canada or Order of Military Merit. Decorations recognize one act of gallantry in combat, or of bravery or meritorious service in a single event or over a specific period of time. Medals recognize participation in a campaign or operation, service under exceptional circumstances, commemorate royal or national anniversaries or recognize long and loyal service.


Pouring the port at a mess dinner.

Mess dinners are common to all military services. These are formal occasions filled with pageantry, customs and tradition when the formal uniform (mess kit) is worn. While wings and squadrons may hold mess dinners to mark a variety of special occasions, the most important Air Force mess dinner is held every year on April 1, the birthday of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). During a multi-course dinner, toasts are proposed, music played and speeches — preferably brief — are given.

A dining-in is similar to a mess dinner but less formal, while a mixed formal dinner is a dinner in the mess to which non-mess members may be invited.

The “passing of the port” is a key custom at a mess dinner, but one that sometimes leads to argument. At the end of a mess dinner, port decanters are passed amongst the diners so they may pour themselves a small glass for the Loyal Toast (the toast to the reigning monarch). Which way is the port passed? Is the decanter placed on the table between diners or is it passed from hand to hand, never touching the table?

These questions become even more complicated when the dinners are tri-service or when Canadian Armed Forces members wearing the uniform of one service attend the dinner of another service.

In the Air Force, port decanters are passed to the left, and the decanter does not touch the table until it needs to be refilled or has reached the end of the table.


There is many recipes for this uniquely Canadian drink but almost all call for rum — and lots of it! Some also include brandy. Add some coffee liqueur to the rum or brandy, combine with a milk, cream and vanilla ice cream base, and toss in some sugar and a little nutmeg to enhance the flavour. Go to any Christmas celebration at an air wing in Canada and somebody will have mixed up a bowl of this memorable concoction.