Terence Blacker: Aux armes across the channel

Share
Related Topics

A few concerns have been raised about plans for closer co-operation between the British and French armies. There have been quacks of alarm from traditionalists and little Englanders, fearful that the essential character of our soldiery will be compromised by contact with French brothers-in-arms. "British Army Under French Orders", read one front-page headline over a piece which mentioned Agincourt, Crécy, Trafalgar, Waterloo. "In World War II we were supposed to be standing side by side with the French," one old soldier was reported as saying. "Then look what happened."

According to my source at the Ministry of Defence (or "La Défense", as it will now be known), these fears are absolutely groundless. The process of rationalisation, Operation Ca Va, as it is called, will essentially be the kind of operation that the British army has become used to over recent decades.

During that period, many great historic regiments were merged and soon forged a new identity. The same process, apart from one or two language differences, will take place over the next few months as Operation Ca Va gets under way. To prepare for this new entente militaire officials have instructed senior officers to introduce some gentle changes to the age-old traditions of military life.

That way, they believe, the cultural shock when British and French soldiers eventually find themselves shoulder to shoulder, will be reduced. Some of the modifications will involve minor questions of tone. That familiar figure of history and anecdote, the tough, wise-cracking British Tommy, will henceforth be known as "To-To" and will look less like Norman Wisdom and more like Jacques Tati. The legendary sense of humour, said by military historians to have been something of a secret weapon in the two great wars, will of course live on, although To-To's humour will now be expressed exclusively in mime.

There will be minor moderations to parade-ground drill. Berets will be worn at a jaunty, facetious angle. Soldiers on parade will respond differently when addressed by a regimental sergeant-major. In the event of the RSM saying, "What exactly do you think that you look like, you 'oribble little man?", the response of a good-humoured To-To should be to sniff, one-two, to shrug, one-two, and say briskly: "Bof! Je ne sais pas, SAH!"

There will be no drills, exercises or operations of any sort between 1300 hours and 1600 hours. Operation Ca Va will also introduce changes to the etiquette of the Officers' mess. Until now, making "loud and obtrusive remarks in a foreign language" was regarded as the height of bad form. That ruling is now formally suspended, as is the prohibition of unauthorised smoking, and the discussion of such topics as politics, religion or women.

Suggested subjects for conversation at mess dinners will be: l'amour, la condition humaine, Sartre et la mauvaise foi, and pourquoi vivre? The toast at the end of a regimental dinner will be to "The Queen – et la République".

Several reciprocal concessions are to be made by the French army. Its Foreign Legion will be known as the Anglo-French Foreign Legion. Rather than training in north Africa, the legion will become part of a regeneration project in areas of social deprivation across England and Scotland.

Regimental mottos will henceforth be in English; "Demerdez-vous", the code of the Foreign Legion's parachute division, will become the more easily understood "Get your shit together". The British regiment whose motto is "Sans Peur" will march under the flag of "No fear".

Linguistic confusions between the two armies will quickly become a thing of the past. The aide-de-camp of a British general will no longer have his position anglicised, becoming instead of an ADC a WBDB, or Well-Bred Dog's Body. The term chargé d'affaires will however remain unchanged, reflecting the additional workload of this post, organising affairs within the new Anglo-French army.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine