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France: Army colleges

Last modified: 2010-11-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: army college | ecole polytechnique | x | zurlin | ecole speciale militaire de saint-cyr | saint-cyr |
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École Polytechnique

École Polytechnique, a.k.a. l'X (the X [letter]), is one of the most prestigious engineering schools in France.
Founded in 1794 in Paris by Monge and Carnot to train scientists and engineers for the senior branches of civil service, École Polytechnique was organized as a military college by Imperial Decree of the 27 Messidor of the Year 12 (16 July 1804). École Polytechnique is still placed under the authority of the Ministry of National Defence and the students shall obey the military discipline and wear a uniform. Initially located in Paris, École Polytechnique was transfered in 1976 to Palaiseau, 20 km south of Paris.

On the 14 Frimaire of the Year 12 (5 December 1804), all Imperial regiments were presented a colour during a ceremony held on Champ-de-Mars in Paris. Not manufactured in due time, the colour of École Polytechnique was not presented to the college, which was presented instead the colour of the 29th Regiment of the Line (29e Régiment de Ligne).
In a letter dated of the 17 Nivôse of the Year 13 (7 January 1805), General Dejean, Minister-Director of the War Administration, informed General Lecuée, Governor of École Polytechnique, that Marshall Berthier, Minister of War, had proposed "Patrie, Science, Gloire" (Fatherland, Science, Glory) as the college's motto. On the 21 Germinal of the Year 13 (11 April 1805), an Internal Decree described the colour officially granted to the college, with Lecuée's agreement. The colour should bear, in gilded letters, on the reverse:
    L'EMPEREUR
  DES FRANÇAIS,
    AUX ÉLÈVES
      DE L'ÉCOLE
POLYTECHNIQUE
(The Emperor of the French to the students of École Polytechnique),
and on the reverse:
        POUR
    LA PATRIE
LES SCIENCES
        ET LA
      GLOIRE
(For Fatherland, Sciences and Glory).

This first colour was most probably burned with most of the flags of the Imperial Army in Hôtel des Invalides on 31 March 1814. A fac-simile of the original colour, manufactured in 1894 for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the college, is still displayed in the Council Room of the college.
On 23 March 1901, École Polytechnique was granted a new colour by President of the Republic Émile Loubet. In 1940, after the defeat of the French Army, the college was demilitarized and moved to Lyon, in the non-occupied zone. The colour of the college, secretely given to the Archbishop of Bordeaux, was subsequently brought back to Lyon by three students of the college. In March 1943, following the occupation of the whole French territory by the German army, École Polytechnique was moved back to Paris. The colour seems to have been secretely kept by the staff of the college. After the Liberation, two workers employed by the college were decorated because they had hidden the colour during the occupation.
In the past, the colour of École Polytechnique was nicknamed Zurlin, after General Zurlinden, who had ordered to add blinds to the windows of the college. Nowadays, the blinds themselves are called Zurlin and the flag does not seem to have got a new nickname.

Source: Website of École Polytechnique

Ivan Sache, 12 March 2002


École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr

École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (ESM), founded by Napoléon I, is one of the most prestigious Military Colleges in France. Among its alumni (known as saints-cyriens or cyrards) are Marshals Canrobert, Pélissier, Mac-Mahon, Leclerc, de Lattre de Tassigny, Juin, Franchet d'Espérey, Lyautey and Pétain, Generals Galliéni, De Gaulle and Weygand, King Peter I of Serbia and Prince Louis II of Monaco.
Originally located in Saint-Cyr-l'École, near Versailles, the college was relocated to Coëtquidan, in Brittany, following the nearly complete destruction of the Saint-Cyr premises at the end of the Second World War. However, the name and tradition of Saint-Cyr have been kept by the new college.

On 11 Floréal of Year X (1 May 1802), First Consul Bonaparte founded the École Spéciale Militaire (Special Military College), whose aim was to teach cavalry and infantry officiers. The College really started to exist in 1803 in the castle of Fontainebleau, which also housed the imperial court. The 500 students were divided into five companies, later nine, forming a single battalion. In January 1805, the College was renamed École Spéciale Impériale Militaire and nicknamed La Spéciale.
In 1807, the College was to be moved to the former Maison Royale de Saint-Louis in Saint-Cyr, while the prytanée, then housed there, was to be moved to La Flèche. The new College was inaugurated on 7 June 1808 under the command of General Bellavène. In 1811, Emperor Napoléon appointed officers from Saint-Cyr in the artillery; the best students followed the same classes as the students of École Polytechnique. On 28 January 1812, 112 of them formed the the first Gunners' Company. The same year, General Meunier, second commander of the college, increased the discipline and prohibited duels.
At the first Restauration, the College was renamed École Royale Militaire" and discipline was relaxed. King Louis XVIII dissolved the College on 16 July 1815 and set up in Saint-Cyr a Preparatory College. Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr (1764-1830), Ministry of War and reorganizer of the French army in 1818, maintained the College in Saint-Cyr and restored Napoléon's organization on 27 December 1817. The 1818-1820 class received number 1. The batallion (two classes) had 300 students, selected from the Prytanée Militaire of La Flèche or recruited by contest in the civil population. Already used during the Empire, the nickname of Premier Bataillon de France (First Battalion of France) was officialized by King Louis XVIII.
The Saint-Cyr battalion protected King Charles X during the July Revolution in 1830 and reluctantly rallied the new regime. Marshal Soult (1769-1851), appointed Minister of War by King Louis-Philippe, modernized and democratized the College. The life in the College was turbulent because of the disputes among Legitimists, Republicans and Bonapratists. Discipline was restored in 1833 by the inflexible Colonel Baraguey d'Hilliers. On 15 September 1840, a group of students of Saint-Cyr took part to the celebration of the return of Napoléon's ashes from St. Helena.

Saint-Cyr approved Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte's coup and the proclamation of the Second Empire. During that period, several traditions were set up in the College, for instance the adoption of the red and white plume called casoar or caso in 1855, and the celebration of "St. Austerlitz" on the anniversary of the battle (2 December 1805). In 1870, the Prussians transformed the College in a school hospital during the siege of Paris and looted it before withdrawing.
Reopened on 1 September 1871 under the command of General Hanrion to prepare the revenge, the college was increased to house 400 students per class. President of the Republic Armand Fallières inaugurated on 24 July 1912 the Remembrance Museum. During the First World War, the College was closed and used for the teaching of cadets. The College reopened in 1919 under the command of General Tanant.

After the French defeat in June 1940, the College was occupied by the Germans. Transfered to Aix-en-Provence on 16 December 1940, it was merged with the Military Infantry College of Saint-Maixent and eventually suppressed on 27 November 1942 after the German army had invaded the "Free Zone". Several officers joined the anti-German resistance movements and the College was reconstituted in Cherchell- Médiouna (Algeria) in November 1942, training more than 4,500 officers for the Tunisia French Forces, the Italy Expeditionary Corps, the 1st Army and the 2nd Armoured Division. De Gaulle set up in autumn 1940 the École Militaire des Cadets de la France Libre, located in Malvern and subsequently relocated to Ribbesford; the College trained 211 officers, of which 48 died in action. Following the suppression of the College on 16 June 1944, a law passed in 1954 stated that the cadets from that College would be considered as Saint-Cyr officers.

On 25 July 1944, the former Maison de Saint-Louis, then housing the Gestapo, was crushed by bombs. On 10 and 12 August, another bombing destroyed a column of German tanks and the last building of the College, the Remembrance Museum. The monument erected between the two World Wars to honour the fallen officiers was also partially destroyed. It originally bore the writing:
1914-1918
Ils s'instruisent pour vaincre
(They learn to win)
à la gloire (to the glory)
des élèves de Saint-Cyr (of the cadets of Saint-Cyr)
tombés au champ d'honneur (fallen in action).
The only remaining words are:
Vaincre
Gloire
Saint-Cyr
Honneur
.

After the Liberation, the College was moved to Coëtquidan (Brittany) in early July 1945 and renamed École Militaire Interarmes (Interservice Military School). By Ministerial Decree of 23 May 1947, the College was renamed École Spéciale Militaire Interarmes (ESMIA). On 3 December 1959, the Ministry of the Army decided to rebuild the College in Coëtquidan. ESMIA was replaced on 13 December 1961 by two schools, École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr (ESM Saint-Cyr), aka Spéciale, and École Militaire Interarmes (EMIA). ESM Saint-Cyr kept the traditions of Napoléon's College, including the motto granted by the Emperor in 1805 (Ils s'instruisent pour vaincre) and the colour. Inaugurated in 1969, he new college was opened to women in 1984.

Source: ESM official website, history section

The colour of ESM Saint-Cyr, considered as the descendant of the colours successively granted to the College since its foundation in 1808, is kept by the guard of the 1st Battalion (Bataillon de France).
Designed on the model of the French army colours, the flag bears:
- on the obverse, the writing:
    RÉPUBLIQUE
      FRANÇAISE
ÉCOLE SPÉCIALE
      MILITAIRE
- on the reverse, the writing:
                    HONNEUR
                            ET
                      PATRIE
"ILS S'INSTRUISENT POUR VAINCRE"
                    PREMIER
                  BATAILLON
                  DE FRANCE
The colour bears the Legion of Honour, the Cross of War 1914-1918 (awarded on 18 May 1922), the Cross of War 1939-1945 (3 November 1949) and the Cross of War TOE (17 July 1953).

Source: ESM official website, traditions section

Ivan Sache, 22 May 2009


 
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