Booklet celebrates end of past rivalries

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The Independent Online
SOME thought it was designed to tie down the Germans, others to undermine the Franco-Russian alliance. In the latter version, the Japanese had enlisted British help to neutralise French Indo-China and give Japan a clear field to attack Russia. More simply, in the words of a joint venture booklet produced by the Foreign Office and the Quai d'Orsay, the Entente Cordiale, signed 90 years ago this month, was aimed at 'setting aside past rivalries'.

The glossy booklet has predictable pictures of Concordes, Le Shuttle trains and Charles de Gaulle sitting uniformed behind a microphone. Setting aside past rivalries, the booklet does not mention the Gallic wobbly de Gaulle threw when the BBC told him it had neglected to record his historic 18 June 1940 broadcast proclaiming that France had lost a battle but not the war.

Yesterday, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, co-signatories of the booklet's preface, travelled together from a European Council meeting in Luxembourg to Paris for an evening of Entente Cordiale festivities: a reception at the Quai d'Orsay, then a dinner at the British ambassador's residence.

On the previous day, the new Pont de Benouville, better known as Pegasus Bridge, where British glider-borne troops and paratroopers crossed in the early hours of 6 June 1944 at the start of the D-Day landings, was lowered into place.

Before the new bridge - the old one was deemed unsafe and dismantled in November - was swung into position, a kilted Bill Millin, who piped the troops across with 'Blue Bonnets Over the Border' in 1944, baptised the structure with his bagpipes.

The Entente Cordiale celebrations were the first of three events in Franco-British relations this spring. Next month, the Queen and President Francois Mitterrand inaugurate the Channel Tunnel. In June, they meet again for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. In the festive atmosphere, the anger two weeks ago over the summary cancellations of British and Canadian veterans' D-Day hotel bookings - set right when the French government decided not to requisition their rooms - was almost forgotten.

But, plus ca change: from Caen came news that a hotel had just scrapped 50 British veterans' bookings because, it said, British travel agents had not paid by the agreed settlement date.