"A merry matelot approaches with a Huge Brown Kettle. 'You lads like some cocoa?' We galloped at the speed of light to our big packs and returned to meet the merry matelot as he descended from the Bridge. He pours out the thick brown remaining sludge. The gulls in our wake scream as they dive bomb the morning garbage. We sip the cocoa, holding the mug with both hands to warm them. A change from holding the mug to warm the Naafi tea." - Spike Milligan, 'Mussolini: My Part In His Downfall.'
Merriam-Webster Online has some interesting things to say about this word: Pronunciation: \ˈmat-ˌl�?, ˈma-tə-\ Function: noun Etymology: French, from Middle French, from Middle Dutch mattenoot, literally, bedmate Date: circa 1847 British: sailor
I wonder if this is like tiemate--sailors who were buddies who'd braid (plait) each other's pigtails. It was just the seemingly unrelated reference to "sailor" that made me think of it.