It was, of course, white-glove service, but with a twist. The white gloves worn by the luncheon attendants came from their chemical warfare suits.

It mattered little that the five-course meal was scrounged from canned rations, or that the port "wine" decanted in plastic water bottles was really powdered cherry drink.The 7th Tank Transporter Regiment of the British 7th Armored Battalion was having its regimental luncheon, and the guests conducted themselves as if attending a social function of the highest order.

"There's 24 hours in the day. We have to fill them somehow," said Capt. Richard Card, one of the 60 officers and non-commissioned officers seated at the rough plank tables.

Actually, the tank-transporters have found other things to occupy them in the six weeks they have been in Saudi Arabia. The unit, based in Germany, moved some 3,000 pieces of armor and support vehicles from Saudi ports to the front lines in the last few hectic weeks. One of its men was killed in a night accident.

Soon, the 7th will move again, hauling huge Challenger tanks closer to the border. If a land war begins, they may be under fire as they bring replacement tanks to the front.

"We have been working steadily since we got here and now, while we have the chance, I want to thank you," said Col. Kelvin Tutt.

Sixty hands held up their plastic cups. "Nostrovia!" they said in unison, Polish for "Your health."

The toast dates back to the end of World War II when the regiment was formed from elements of the famed British Desert Rats. The unit contained a number of Polish Army veterans displaced by the war.

There were other culinary miracles. Among them, a printed menu distributed to guests that listed entrees like, "Sand Dune Surprise," "Gulf Gonads," and "Arabian Desert Wellie," a play on words for both Beef Wellington and slang for a boot.

Lunch, in fact, was tinned corned beef with potatoes and peas.

The meal was topped off by a tray of assorted cheeses. On closer inspection it turned out the cheeses were the standard ration rolled in different vegetables and spices.

Then came the water bottles containing ersatz port.

"If this were the real thing, we'd spend the rest of the day around the table drinking and talking," Card said wistfully.