In the second part of his series reflecting on the Anglo-French relationship, the photojournalist Nick Danziger has been looking at the Military ties between the two countries.
His focus has been upon Royal Marine Major Chris Cullis, who is half-way through a three-year officer exchange programme with the French marines.
Listen to Major Cullis talking to us about his life and work in France, and about the Anglo-French relationship
View Series 1: the Normandy Veterans gallery.
View Series 2: the Military gallery.
View Series 3: the Moulin Rouge gallery.
View Series 4: the Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair gallery.
View Series 5: the Millau Bridge gallery.
View Series 6: the Nyetimber Vineyard gallery.
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Major Chris Cullis is the Royal Marines exchange officer with the French 9ème Brigade Blindée Legère de Marine. He has a French counterpart based with the headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines in Plymouth. Cullis has served in France for 24 months and does the job of a French officer. He has participated in exercises and operations in the Balkans and Africa alongside his French colleagues.
3 Commando Brigade and the 9BLBMa have been twinned since 1995, under the European Amphibious Initiative. The appointment is very popular with the Royal Marines and Major Cullis says he counts himself very fortunate to have been selected.
The twinning of the brigades is an important feature. Amphibious warfare is a very specialist area and mutual understanding and joint training are essential if the brigades are to work effectively together in the future in either a NATO or European context. Regular contact and bi-lateral discussion and training takes place between the headquarters and the regiments/commando units. Recently, Royal Marines took part in a French procedural exercise and a French squadron took part in a major multinational amphibious exercise in the USA, under command of 3 Commando Brigade.
The Cullis’ are the only British military family in the city. The nearest military support is the Naval Attaché in Paris. Administrative support is provided by the Royal Navy in Portsmouth and operational direction from 3 Commando Brigade in Plymouth. Major Cullis' immediate boss in France is a French lieutenant-colonel. The family have a wide, eclectic circle of French civilian and military friends and feel very much accepted as part of the city’s population. Cullis' wife Clare is as settled as she was in UK, despite having had to learn French from scratch on arrival. The children, Betsy (5) and Otto (4), are in a French nursery school and are completely bi-lingual.
Chris admits that there is a down-side. “Family and British friends are not close, I miss contact with my Royal Marines colleagues and of course nothing replaces the English pub. There is greater bureaucracy and everything takes time to organise; the streets of the beautiful medieval city are strewn with litter and dog mess; you can sometimes sense a slight persecution complex in the national make-up and that needs delicate handling.
"It is a privilege to be allowed to get inside someone else’s organisation and see how it works, and to play a small role in developing mutual understanding between two nations," says Chris. He finds the French Marines have a lot in common with their Royal Marines counterparts – "... they are professional, confident and outgoing and have considerable operational experience. They are equally proud of their heritage and reputation – they just express it more overtly!"
Unlike the Royal Marines, who form part of the Royal Navy, they are part of the Army, and this runs slightly in conflict with their amphibious role. Doctrinally there are differences. Chris says: "The challenge is working out how the two brigades can best operate together. The key to this is training together as much as possible; operational pressures on both sides of the Channel can make this difficult, but the will is there. Militarily, there is much to be gained from the relationship."
Major Cullis enjoys living in French society. He says that contrary to British folklore, people are generally friendly, helpful, welcoming, open and interested. People work hard yet find the time for the important things in life: time at work to greet all their colleagues, discuss all manner of things over a coffee and to bid goodnight to everyone at the end of the day; time to enjoy a meal and a nice bottle of wine together; time for family (in a society which is very family orientated). There is less stress generally, for example driving is a pleasure and there is no so-called "road rage". "French society seems to have retained a sense of balance in life that we in Britain seem to be in danger of losing," he says.
He see France as an old-world power, having much in common with Britain. She has similar world-wide influence and commitments, but for a number of very good historical reasons, a more Euro-centric vision of the world. "La Manche" has clearly influenced the way both Britain and France have developed. Chris enjoys the efficient infrastructure (SNCF/TGV and health are particularly impressive services) but notes that it costs the taxpayer dearly. France's problems seem similar to those of the UK; unemployment, ever-increasing demands on central funding, and increasing property prices.
"What is extremely interesting is that, whilst in the UK we cast an envious eye at the quality of life South of the Channel, equally a lot of French people are envious of life North of "la Manche". Despite our differences, we have a lot in common and exchanges like this help us to exploit this fact," says Major Cullis.
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