My ex gamekeeper turned up (he is on leave) and in the course of general wittering, spinning off from the fact that he will be guarding Edinburgh Castle in all his glory in the not too distant future, revealed that the thing which really sorts out the men from the boys in the French Foreign Legion is not the sand, the sand … the heat … the thirst … the flies … (etc.) , so much as the ironing. I was sufficiently intrigued by this assertion to Google ironing + the French Foreign Legion, and he is obviously quite right, to judge by the following:
‘The only uniform that is ironed is the “Tenue de Garde” (Uniform worn on guard duty), “Tenue de sortie”. (Uniform worn when allowed into the town) and the “Tenue De Parade” (Uniform worn when on parade). The ironing of these items of clothing appears daunting at first but once it has been done a few times it is really not too bad. The reason being is that there are fifteen creases to be ironed into the shirt; three above each top pocket, two down each arm, two across the top of the back and three more which run vertically down the back. Trousers are ironed in the more conventional manner. The first time you iron your shirt, it will probably take you a good hour, but once the creases are in, it is a fairly simple process to run over them again. (Even after the shirt has been washed the creases lines are evident). This makes it all the more important to make sure the creases are in the correct place to start with.’
The military mind is a strange and complex device. Can you imagine ironing fifteen creases into anything — of cold purpose, I mean, not by mistake? Or, indeed, spending an hour ironing a shirt? Well, maybe it takes their mind off all that sand.