Teens in France's first batch of national service recruits faint during ceremony

David Chazan
Some of the recruits fainted in the June sun - Le Parisien

President Emmanuel Macron’s new-look national service has got off to a shaky start, with 29 teenagers in the first group of recruits succumbing to heat exhaustion during a ceremony in Evreux, near Paris.

Some fainted under the blazing sun as they stood in uniform in front of the town hall in temperatures higher than 30 degrees Celsius. First-aiders had to rush at least 10 of the youngsters indoors.

Guy Lefrand, the head of government of Evreux, said: “Two or three were more seriously affected and one had to be taken away for medical care [by ambulance]."

The incident, which took place during the inauguration of a statue of Charles de Gaulle, France’s first postwar president, is embarrassing for Mr Macron.

Bringing back national service with the aim of fostering a sense of national unity and civic duty is one of his pet projects. It was a key election pledge.

Emmanuel Macron reviews troops in June 2019  Credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

Mr Macron is France’s first president not to have done compulsory military service, which was abolished in 1996. The first batch of 2,000 recruits embarked on his updated version of national service at the weekend. 

Several hundred politicians, public personalities and military cadets also attended the unveiling of the statue on Tuesday, the anniversary of General de Gaulle’s 1940 appeal to the French to resist the Nazis.

His “18 June” speech, made while he was in exile in London and broadcast to occupied France on BBC radio, is considered one of the most important in modern French history, marking the birth of the Resistance.

Mr Macron’s new “Universal National Service” is mainly civic but has a military component. It was launched at the weekend with a volunteer group, but is eventually to become compulsory for all 16-year-olds.

The teenagers are spending two weeks under the supervision of soldiers and youth workers, who are training them in self-defence and how to respond to a terrorist attack or natural disaster. They are only allowed to use their mobiles during a one-hour free period each day.

They wear a uniform of black trousers, white shirts and a blue cap for ceremonies, and fluorescent vests for civil protection exercises.