David Cameron obviously doesn't hold the centuries long held conviction that Frenchmen are there for Englishmen to practise shooting arrows at.
The ridiculous defence agreement with France, which David Cameron signed yesterday, brought back some memories of when your intrepid, and at that time much younger, writer played his own small part in the Entente Cordial.
In the far off halcyon days of the Cold War, when there was order in the world and we knew who our enemy was, I took part in an exercise in Germany called Tripex. The friendly forces consisted of a battalion of Jocks, (1 RHF), a US tank regiment, which carried the nickname "Hell on Wheels," and French Artillery. Working with the French was somewhat unusual at the time because they weren't NATO members and spent most of their overseas time skulking around the darker parts of Africa. They also had a presence in Berlin given they were one of the Berlin powers, mostly as a result of three inebriated Frenchmen hitching a lift on a British Churchill tank in Normandy and accidentally arriving in Berlin at the end of the war.
The aim of the exercise, which was politically driven because it would have been suicide in practice, was for the battle group to punch a corridor through Eastern Germany to relieve Berlin should it again be blockaded. In reality of course, the undertaking would have been like A Bridge Too Far, only we would have lasted 20 mins against 3rd Shock Army rather than the full 3 hours of the movie.
Despite being an utter nonesense I expect it ticked a few boxes in Washington, London and Paris........ just as yesterdays agreement ticks a few boxes in London and more importantly for them, Paris.
The point of the agreement has nothing to do with military capability or sensible husbandry of reduced defence spending, because even stupid people in Whitehall know that the French can't be relied upon to do anything, with anyone or anywhere unless it favours their own direct self interest. Rather, it is to give the French an alternative to the Franco-German alliance that has bestrode Europe for the last fifty years.
In European terms, the winner from the recent financial crisis has been Germany. It's fiscal discipline, sense of common purpose and strategic industrial base has seen it emerge stronger than it's European partners. The geo political centre of Europe has moved from Paris to Berlin. Germany is not without it's own internal tensions and stresses but in geo political terms, they are in the driving seat. That worries the French.
This agreement then, simply expands France's options and is a starting gesture to diluting Germany's growing political influence over the extended EU.
So, sending some special forces to crawl about in the dark with knives between their teeth is a modern version of the old Tripex exercise. That however, didn't end quite so well.
Unsurprisingly, the Jocks and the septics rubbed along together just fine and the Americans soon learned to stop leaving their shiny new bits of kit lying around. That was until.................... until we had a couple of days off and were billeted in Sennelager Camp. Soldiers from various cap badges gathered in the huge NAAFI there and everything was going just fine until one very large septic knocked down the tower of empty beer cans that the boys from C Company had been diligently building all night. Then it all went off.
The instigating American immediately had a 5'6'' Jock hanging off his shoulders and bodies were soon flying in all directions, including one or two that went airborne, exiting through the windows. Tables, chairs, beer cans and the odd REME artificer were flying from one side of the room to the other as the whole place erupted in a bar fight worthy of a John Houston western.
Unremarkably, the French were nowhere to be seen.
After a while, the scenes of carnage and chaos quietened down with the arrival of the guard, some RMP's and some over enthusiastic barky, bitey guard dogs. Of course, the Jocks and septics suddenly became the best of friends and resumed drinking, swapping tales and kit.
Note to David Cameron, families fight but they're still family. For one thing........ they speak the same language.