Authie et Mi

Order of Merit

14th July 2013

My friend Jean-Marie Dez is an Adjudant-chef (Warrant Officer) in the reserve company of the 41e régiment de transmissions (41st Signals Regiment) at Douai.

Like many a garrison town in France, and the UK, units have come, gone and been merged or disbanded. The 41e RT was recreated in 2010 to replace the previous regiment in Douai which was a transmissions and support unit.

That in itself had already taken on a number of soldiers and reservists from the Arras Regiment which was disbanded in 2009. Throughout all these changes Jean-Marie has remained a loyal and enthusiastic member of the reserve and this year his services have been officially recognised by his being made a chevalier dans l’ordre national du Mérite (Knight of the National order of merit).

The Order is a rung below that of the Légion d’honneur and was created by Charles de Gaulle in 1963. De Gaulle’s wish was to dispense with a hotch-potch of other awards and allow the Légion d’honneur to regain some of its prestige as the highest award in France—without a suitable alternative its status had become a little tarnished.

On a very hot morning we all gathered around the square in Douai and waited on Général Wasielewki who managed to turn up twenty minutes late leaving a somewhat bemused Colonel Bajon standing in front of his companies and not being allowed to twiddle his thumbs.

Eventually the general arrived and things got under way. It is a sad fact of life in France that these parades are becoming of less and less interest to people. What used to be a grand affair on the main square is now relegated to a smaller place and if you took away the relatives and friends of those taking part I doubt you would have had a crowd at all.

Back for refreshments at JM’s house and we found the garden turned into a battle zone with warnings about minefields, tents, sandbags and ammunition cases filled with beer.

It was a scorching afternoon and those in uniform started to wilt with the exception of Mr Sobecki who insisted that as a former Foreign Legionnaire it was as nothing. He did however have to accept that he was getting his shaved head lathered in sun-cream before it turned into a flaming beacon and attracted the wasps.

We all eat and drank very well and what I thought was going to be an after parade beer and sandwich turned into a full afternoon and evening. I even got to try a rather interesting Vietnamese drink that had bits of snake and a rather large scorpion in the bottle. The taste was a bit rice-wine. Not that exciting. I’ll stick with malt whisky. It did make me wonder though as to how they got the scorpion in the bottle—not as if you can lay it flat and then pull the masts up by a bit of cotton.

Posted : 15 July 2013