Helen Rhodes at St Cyr, sporting a kepi

Final-year French & English student, Helen Rhodes, has undertaken a summer placement at France’s military academy, St Cyr. Helen has been in the Officer Training Corps during her degree in SOCLAS, and spent her Year Abroad working as an English language assistant in Provence. After eight months grappling with French school children, Helen crowned her time in France with this short placement at St Cyr, near Rennes in Brittany.

Helen was the only British student at St Cyr for this placement. On arrival, all the officer cadets were formed up, the duty student was nominated, and roles were allocated. According to Helen, there was an Officer Cadet in charge of pretty much everything, from sport and food, to photography and even singing. French tradition dictates that Helen, as the youngest Officer Cadet was to look after the handing out of rations, water and supplies.

St Cyr's Officer Cadets on a tank

Singing proved to be a major part of the summer placement, as the French army sings as it marches, and so Helen was required to learn swiftly the French National Anthem. Describing her routine, Helen notes that, ‘Reveille was at a bracing 0530 and the day started with healthy dose of cleaning, much to the boys’ dismay! After that, it was a swift march to breakfast, (three bread rolls) which we threw down our throats at breakneck speed and then from 0700 – 2100 hours with just a break for lunch and dinner, we enjoyed a variety of lessons: map and compass; sport; first aid; ethics; leadership; military history, you name it we learnt it, all in French of course!”

Helen Rhodes (far right) with her French colleagues

The long days of training were enhanced considerably by the excellent rations, including duck à l’orange, as well as apéritifs of beer and peanuts in the field. After a month, the passing-out parade was the end of the placement, for which the Officer Cadets were issued with swords and white gloves. Helen quips ‘We were soon wielding our swords like pros with only a few mishaps along the way – one lad hadn’t properly secured his scabbard, screws came tumbling out and,with an embarrassing clatter, he was left sword-less and red faced!’

Helen passed out wearing her British Army uniform alongside her French colleagues, and was presented by her parrain – literally, a godfather – to receive her rank slide. She concludes ‘My time at St Cyr was a brilliant experience and it was an honour to work alongside the French army. I have made some great friends, improved my French tenfold, and hopefully given my French comrades an insight into what the British Army is about.’