The Médaille de la Famille Française was created on 26th May 1920, following the catastrophic losses of the First World War, and can be awarded to mothers:
Bronze medal: for raising 4 or 5 children
Silver: for raising 6 or 7 children
Gold: for raising 8 or more children.
Since 1983, fathers or non-family members who have been responsible for bringing up numbers of French children can also qualify for a medal. There’s even a Catholic priest who qualified for the award, having raised his housekeeper’s children when she died.
Why the history lesson? Well, recently, we were invited to a ceremony to award such a medal. Sadly, I was in England on the day, but Our Man in Laroque, Malcolm, has submitted his report of the event
Two French friends, Martine and Francis, have a large and happy family – six children: three boys, three girls. Recently, Francis invited us to attend a ceremony to award his wife a silver Médaille de la Famille Française – not a word to Martine about this, you understand – a family event, but to be a surprise for her.
Turned up on the dot – a quaint English practice – at the appointed place. There were only six people there, and no sign of husband or wife. Nibbles were ready and waiting on tables, along with a few bottles of champagne, and there, on a separate table, stood a framed award, a small velvet-lined box containing a medal, and flowers, beautifully wrapped in presentation packaging.
And so we waited. And waited. Gradually, more of the children arrived. But not all. Then Francis, wearing a blue suit (before, we’ve only ever seen him casually dressed). And then, eventually, Martine appeared, chauffeured by one of her boys, and looking somewhat bemused. She too was wearing some finery.
And still we waited. For the sixth, and youngest, child of the family to arrive. But she didn’t. Turned out she had a football match on, and had forgotten….
So the ceremony began without her. A smartly dressed woman of a certain age, the representative of the préfet, read a prepared speech from a sheet, Francis read another, and then presented Martine with a large bouquet of beautiful and rather exotic-looking flowers. Then came the handing over of the framed certificate, more flowers, and, most importantly, the silver medal, which was taken from its box and pinned on her.
The ceremony over, it was time for wine, nibbles, and photos.
And later? The family went back home to eat a special meal. This time, all the children were present, as the football match had ended. More posing, more photos, then an evening round the table – mother and father, their six children, a daughter-in-law, heavily pregnant, her parents, and one guest – me. I felt tremendously privileged to have been invited to this ceremony and then to their celebratory meal. Unique – I’d never been to such an event before, and doubt I’ll ever go to another like it – and moving – if integration is what we’re trying to achieve, it doesn’t come better than this.