Badges to impart memory
Memorial services for troops killed on operations are often the time when the memory of the engagement of French service personnel is kept alive and passed on. But interpreting and understanding the badges of overseas operations is another way of constructing the memory of the men and women deployed to foreign theatres over the last more than 50 years.
Since the 1960s, the French armed forces have participated in many overseas operations, either to defend national interests or protect French citizens, or as part of peacekeeping missions. Eager to preserve the memory of their operations, the deployed troops create badges. The badges, often not officially recognised, constitute a souvenir of the provisional units formed for the purpose, around a core of troops from one regiment, sometimes with isolated elements added to them.
From this collection of insignias, a typology can be established consisting of several categories.
General operation badges
This is the commonest badge. Often made of fabric, it is worn in combination with the embroidered patch bearing the coat of arms of France, which identifies the military contingent.
The badge of the French Expeditionary Corps in Egypt, dating back to 1963, can be placed in this category, as can the badges of operations Épervier in Chad (February 1986 to August 2014), Licorne in Côte d’Ivoire (September 2002 to January 2015), Serval in Mali (January 2013 to August 2014), Barkhane in Sahel (since August 2014), and Sangaris in the Central African Republic (December 2013 to October 2016). These badges have in common a heraldic symbol evoking the name of the mission, often represented by animal imagery.
Very often, a metal version of this type of badge is produced for the staff of the deployed force, as in the case of Operation Boali in the Central African Republic (October 2002 to end-2013).
But the rules governing badge-making are flexible. For instance, for Operation Manta in Chad (August 1983 to February 1986), only a metal version of the general operation badge was produced. However, the vast majority of these badges, bearing the symbol of the operation - a manta ray - are not officially recognised.
Command unit badges
Command units constitute another support category within the deployed force. They often apply for official recognition for their badges, basing their applications on a system of symbolism relating to the name of the force. In the former Yugoslavia, for instance, Division Salamandre and Operation Trident in Kosovo (1999 to 2014) thus saw a large number of different badges.
Other unit badges draw on local geography to indicate the setting and location of the operation. This is the case of the logistics battalion in Operation Pamir (December 2012 to December 2014), whose badge depicts the mountains that stretch across Afghanistan.
These badges, which do not always follow the rules of heraldry and symbolism, are nevertheless of great interest from a remembrance perspective, insofar as they recall the engagement of service personnel for France.
Badges specific to each armed force
All the armed forces that have taken part in overseas operations have similarly created their own badges. The desire for all of those involved in the mission to be incorporated in the badge’s symbolism means we are able to identify the regiments that provided the troops for the mission. Accordingly, the next badge shows where in the former Yugoslavia the unit was stationed (Bihac) and the origin of the troops, who were supplied by the 5th Infantry Regiment and 2nd Armoured Division.
The air force has approved a number of badges of air detachments (DETAIRs), including those stationed in Sarajevo, Bosnia (1992-2002), Dushanbe, Tajikistan (2001-14) and Kandahar, Afghanistan (2007-12). These detachments were tasked with providing logistical support to the air operations carried out in the different territories.
The Gendarmerie Nationale has always provided military policing for the armed forces. To avoid a plethora of badges, in 2010 the Gendarmerie Command (COMGEND) in Afghanistan had approved by the Service Historique de la Défense a single badge for all deployed personnel, whatever their unit of origin, tasks or the nature of the deployment. The result was the inscription “Forces de Gendarmerie”, or ‘Gendarmerie Forces’, a unique example in the institution’s body of insignias. This metal badge is coupled with an embroidered patch to be worn on combat fatigues.
The navy have also devised their own badges for overseas operations, such as for the cruiser Dupleix in Operation Olifant, in Lebanon, from 1981, and the naval patrol in Operation Artimon (Daguet), which would be neither approved nor worn, out of respect for French naval tradition.
Major Éric Benard, Luc Binet and Sergeant Sébastien Horner
Head of the Department of Defence Symbolism, Army Symbolism Office and Gendarmerie Symbolism Office