Sunday, June 23

The Showdown (Part 1)

A former squad leader of mine had a saying. He wheeled it out whenever fundamental differences no longer refused to remain hidden in the shadows between two colleagues. He called it “une histoire d’hommes”, which basically meant that rank went out the window and whatever was boiling over between two guys needed to be spilt on to the kitchen floor for the men-in-question to mop up. Come to think of it, this ex-squad leader wheeled this little nugget out a lot. Mais ├ža c’est une autre histoire.

And so, I suppose, have I reached my very own “histoire d’hommes” with my platoon commander. I don’t lay the blame for the situation arising solely at his door, nor do I believe for one second that he wasn’t entirely capable of diffusing it before it reached breaking point. We are both, to an extent, culpable. We are both, after all, only men.

It all started a while back now when, 2 months in advance, I had submitted my desired dates for my end-of-contract annual leave. All legionnaires are required to consume all remaining holidays before their contract ends, thereby avoiding the sticky issue of being reimbursed in cash for days not taken as they leave the Legion through the front gates of Aubagne. My reason for submitting my request so far in advance was to make it back to Dublin for my niece’s First Holy Communion. With two months’ notice, I felt confident that my high standing with my superiors and this lieutenant in particular would see an obstacle-free route to confirmation of my leave. Little did I know that my LT was a master procrastinator suffering from a chronic fear of bringing anything whatsoever up the line. Fantastic!

A month after my request was submitted, we found ourselves once again back in Charles de Gaulle airport for another bout of VIGIPIRATE. Here, I approached the LT to enquire as to the status of my request. He bashfully informed me that the captain was hard to get hold of as he was always away in Paris on day-leave. This reeked of BS given the fact that a holiday request is small fries for the captain and that a simple phone call could have accorded my dates. Still I remained patient, imagining that the request would be dealt with upon our return to regiment. Ha! Quelle imagination!!

Back at base with only 3 weeks until my niece’s communion and gradually augmenting plane fares, I delicately pressed for progress once more. To clarify, I was seeking to be released on a Thursday evening in order to fly home the Friday and be present for the church ceremony on the Saturday. I was now informed that the colonel would be reviewing troops on the Thursday and Friday and that he wasn’t sure if I’d get out as early as desired. I informed him of the rising ticket prices and that any confirmation/clarification would be much obliged. I was met with “Pfff, what rising prices?? Easy Jet fly return to Dublin for €30, don’t give me that!!”.

My plane ticket had risen from €140 to €260 since my initial request was submitted.

Still I waited, until the week before I was due (?) to hit the road and the Thursday evening the LT drops in to my room, informing me that due to the colonel’s presence in the company over those two days, it would not be possible to leave before the Friday evening. I expressed my disappointment but confirmed my understanding of the situation, and thanked him for dealing with my request (through clenched teeth, I might add). Right so, shitty news digested, time to book my flights. €280 out of pocket, but both home and my little niece were in sight.

The next day we had our traditional Friday room review, and upon passing inspection over my own quarters (of which I was the sole inhabitant as the other two lodgers were away on long-term training courses) the LT casually drops the bomb that I’d more than likely be finished with the colonel on Thursday and could head off that evening if I so desired. Not even 24 hours after I’d booked my €280 flights home, of which the cost of changing would’ve equaled the original price. Slightly less patient, I explained the redundant timing of his generous announcement.

He shrugged. I expected no more, no less.

Jump to the Friday of the following week and I’m packing the last few toiletries into my bag when in walks the LT.

“O’Shea, when are you due back in France at the end of your holidays?”

Rummaging in my head for the exact date, he rephrased his question.

“Will you be flying back on the Saturday/Sunday or earlier?”

I should’ve twigged it, but didn’t, and proceeded to reassure him.

“No no I’ll be back on Friday. I always give myself a few days in Paris before heading back to base.”

This pleased him, as he proceeded to inform me of a sports day up in the mountains for which the company was leaving early on the Sunday morning at the end of my holidays. He required that I be at base the Saturday evening. I paused, worked through the information I’d just received, and then politely asked him what the fuck a sports day happening while I was still technically on holidays had to do with me, 6 weeks before I was due to go civvy.

“The captain said the whole company was to be involved”, he said. Indeed when saying that, the captain was hardly thinking of my individual circumstance, I responded. Surely he need only be reminded that I was on holidays until the Sunday evening and all would be clarified.

“The captain said everyone goes, meaning you too”.

For fuck’s sake, use your little head, man. But no, master procrastinators and auctoritasophobes would never dream of using their heads. And so I left on holidays, destined to miss my niece’s communion and with a cloud of potential insubordination hanging over me. Let’s be honest, I had no intention whatsoever of cutting my holidays short, even by a day, in order to go running around the mountains in some typically idiotic and ceremonially misconceived nonsensical event, a speciality of the Legion.

Not that my LT didn’t have his chance to win me over one last time. While back in Dublin, I embarked on a tedious, oftentimes torturous and unfathomably competitive house hunt with my friend. Every landlord wanted references, both previous landlord and current employer. The former was impossible for me, having been off the grid the past 5 years. The latter was tricky, but not completely beyond my limits. I text my LT asking for a letter of reference (good character, etc etc) and received a reply telling me he’ll get around to it tomorrow. 9 DAYS LATER (and after already – SOMEHOW – securing a fabulous little place in Dublin) the letter arrives by e-mail. Now it WAS written in more-than-acceptable English, it WAS extremely complimentary, but is was ALSO 8 days late. Legion officers are hardly bogged down with paperwork. I took it as a prime example of where this “commander”s priorities lay.

I weighed up the pros and cons. Pros – nice letter. Cons – so late as to render it completely useless. If any doubt remained, it was mercilessly extinguished there and then. Fuck the sports day, I was going to soak up every last drop of holidays before heading back to base on the Sunday night.

I texted him to confirm receipt of the letter, and - perhaps in one last attempt to allow him see sense and scratch me off the sports day list - I asked if I was still included in this little outing up in the mountains. The reply was unambiguous.

“We leave early Sunday morning, you aswell.”

I wrote back to him: “With the greatest respect, LT, I won’t be back in regiment until late Sunday evening. This is to inform you now, so that you’re not waiting around for me wondering what’s happening.”

He replied: “OK, so you’ve basically fucked me over. No problem, I’ll remember this for the next time.”

What next time? I’ve 6 weeks left!!!

I replied: “I don’t enjoy doing this, LT, but perhaps better that we discuss it face to face, because I too feel like I’ve been royally fucked over. See you next week at regiment, Cpl O’Shea.”

End of transmission, and here I now type on the TGV back down to base. I predict that the company (and my wonderful LT) will be back by tomorrow evening or Tuesday latest. Interesting times ahead. I feel calm and relatively prepared. Either he’ll nip it in the bud or he’ll continue to ride his precariously high horse leaving a spot free at the pulpit for some venting from my side. Let’s see how this “histoire d’hommes” unfolds.

To be continued……..


  1. Ooooft mate, you just don't need that s**t with only 6 weeks left, esp after you have gave them an umblemished 5 yrs

  2. Bit ridiculous considering you've 6 weeks left,surely the colonel would know you're on holidays. agh well c'est la vie!!

  3. Sounds like the Canadian Army