History of 400 Squadron's Black Velvet Dinners and the OBV Award
Submissions from: Gerry Gilroy, Carl Mills, (Mel) M.B. Pepper, Barry Stewart
One of the many things that we can thank George Georgas for is the fact that the origin of the Black Velvet is in the Squadron History.
In 1940 the Squadron was being moved from Old Sarum to Odiham. The Squadron held a garden party to thank the community and the Station personnel for the great way they had been treated. Black Velvet was served.
Black Velvet The Drink
The Black Velvet is a beer cocktail made from stout beer (often Guinness) and white, sparkling wine, traditionally champagne.
The drink was first created by the bartender of the Brooks's Club of London in 1861, to mourn the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Prince Consort. It is supposed to symbolise the black or purple cloth armbands worn by mourners.
A Black Velvet is made by filling a vessel, traditionally a tall champagne flute, halfway with chilled stout beer and floating the sparkling wine on top of the stout. The differing densities of the liquids cause them to remain largely in separate layers (as in a pousse-café). The effect is best achieved by pouring over a spoon turned upside down over the top of the glass so that the liquid runs gently down the sides rather than splashing into the lower layer and mixing with it.
Mel (M.B.) Peppers Memories
The Squadron Officers obviously enjoyed the BV and the party because they had a Black Velvet party each year after that until the end of the war. However, other than the original 400 Squadron Black Velvet Garden Party, we are not sure how much BV'ing went on during the war years. F/L (ret) M.B. (Mel) Pepper (one of the few living members of the war years ... at the time of this writing in March 2011, (MB is doing well at 92 in his home in Kamloops, BC) was asked by Carl Mills to recall his attendance, or knowledge of, the Black Velvet Parties. Here is his response:
Post War Years
When the Squadron was reformed after the war a few wartime members re-established the party. Good natured extreme behavior was encouraged. W/C Lindsay fashioned a medal out of lead and the presentation of the Order Of the Black Velvet became a humorous fun filled fact. Light hearted exaggeration of any event was common.
The first few that I attended were on a Saturday afternoon which was later switched to Friday evenings. The first Friday of December was selected. Carl Mills recalls: "I understand it was started as a kind of Pub Crawl". Well, between pub crawls and the mixture of Guinness and cheap champagne, is it any wonder details are hard to confirm!!!
During the 50’s and 60’s ex-officers were invited to this Squadron activity. Usually you could count them on the fingers of one hand. On the other hand most of the serving officers would be there. No one asked or ordered them to go. That’s where their friends were.
General (then W/C) Barry Howard thought that the Black Velvet should become a sit down dinner. Being an excellent leader and salesman, it became a fact. I have been told that Marg Houston and Bill Martin were involved in the transition. Good move.
During the organizational gyrations of the 80’s and 90’s the squadron seemed to lose some of its cohesiveness and the retired officers predominated at the Black Velvet Dinners. Sometimes you could count the serving officers on the fingers of one hand. As we progressed into the 21st century turnouts continued to dwindle, as did the number of serving officers.
An ad hoc group of ex-officers came together with some new ideas to enhance the popularity of the event in order to preserve the Black Velvet tradition, and ensure it does not die with the present cohort of retired officers from the 50's and 60's. If you take a look at the page links below, I think you will agree that they have been very successful.
OBV Medallion History
Historically the OBV was awarded at the annual Black Velvet Dinner (on the first Friday of every December) for "Bad Boy" events that were hilarious at the time and provided members with a good laugh at the dinner. Often it had something to do with previous dinners or social events as well as actual squadron operations. In later years we have awarded the OBV for positive actions as well, such as the 2013 award to Carl Mills for his outstanding work on squadron history and the tale of how he moved the old 400 and 411 Squadrons' Standards from relative obscurity to their present location of honour. The recipients of the OBV originally had to be serving or ex-members of the squadron. In later years we have included recipients who were not members or ex-members, but were associated with the squadron in some way.
Personally I would like to see the OBV going to actual serving members most years, but being so removed now from familiarity with serving members it is hard for me to accomplish that. I rely on authoritative spies in the squadron to gather the appropriate names and intel.
The earliest version of the OBV I have seen appeared to be made out of lead/tin solder, probably done in a mold in somebody's basement workshop. It may have been made of another metal and silver-plated or painted with a bright, silver-like finish. It had a lovely silver shine and was perhaps a bit smaller than the later versions. I recall that it also had the flat front with the winged bottle on it but the edge around the reverse side was not sharp but rounded, smoothly. It must have belonged to one of the more senior members because I have not seen it for years. I think that particular medal did not use the traditional black velvet ribbon; instead I remember a red, white and green ribbon. All others use the black velvet ribbon which is...you guessed it, black and sort of velvety.
The second version of the OBV which was being passed out by the 1970s is the type I wear. It is circular, 58 mm in diameter and about 4 mm thick, apparently made out of a metal stronger than lead (I cannot scratch it) although it weighs like lead. It might be steel. It shows no signs of rust or wear and is a grey metal colour. The reverse is flat with no decoration at all. As you can see from the photo, a hole was drilled in the disk at the top in order to pass a 'key ring' through it to which the ribbon is attached.
The third and present version of the OBV is of the same size and shape as mine described above, except that there is a built-in tab at the top of the medal in which the hole is drilled through which the key ring is added for the ribbon mounting. The wording is the same but features slightly bigger and easier to read letters and the winged bottle is a squatter shape with less etched (but more fluid) lines. It too is made of steel-like metal of a metal grey colour. I believe that George Georgas obtained this version using a sporting goods/trophy maker.
Until about 2005, a person who received the OBV could consider him/herself immune to further awards for questionable behaviour. I instituted "The Bar", which is basically another OBV, except since you already have one medal, you just add the bar to it. Nobody is immune from anything, anymore!
It may be of interest to know that much of the black velvet ribbon being used to hang the OBV about the necks of the recipients is the same strand that held the RCAF tartan tight against the wind over the 400 Squadron Memorial monument at the Trenton National Air Force Museum on the day that monument was unveiled and dedicated.
Hal Lindsay was the signing "duly authorized officer" at the time I received my OBV in 1974. George Georges was the duly authorized officer prior to me taking over, after 2003, although the citations on his watch were signed "AVM Digit, OBV". The oldest copy of a citation I have is for George Georges. I cannot make out the signing officer's name, although it appears to be a real person's name. That year was 1962.
I have a record of 12 OBVs with names but no dates. I have records of 29 OBVs with dates. Also I have to admit that some years, no OBV was given out because everybody was covering their tracks so well.
Previous Black Velvet Dinners
Other than this photo sent along by Len Neath, we have no information or photos of other Black Velvet's. Surely the statute of limitations has run out on most of them, sooooooo we urge the members to dig into their photo and memory vaults and send along the incriminating information. Contact our Administrator for further instructions. (I'm very discrete and not into blackmail)