A boat, a priest and a nice speech
My father-in-law, Jean Perrachon, was a friend of the son of Henri Desprez, the founding president of the Compagnie Auxiliaire de Navigation. They were both from the class of 1913 of the Ecole Polytechnique. Unfortunately, Desprez son died in combat. After the war, Henri Desprez hired my father-in-law at the Compagnie Auxiliaire de Navigation. He had founded this shipping company in 1912 to import coal from Wales for the French railways. He was also the founding president of the Compagnie Africaine de Navigation and the Compagnie Maritime du Maroc. His entire coal fleet was sunk during the Great War. After the Great War, the Company specialised in the transport of oil products to become the largest oil shipping company of the inter-war period. The objective was to have a fleet of tankers so that it would no longer be dependent on foreign navies. At that time, all the oil companies started to develop their own shipping business. In 1978, the merger of Compagnie Auxiliaire de Navigation and Compagnie Française des Pétroles gave birth to Total. Before that, my father-in-law became the president of the Compagnie Auxiliaire de Navigation from 1966-1971. With my husband, Bernard Perrachon, son of Jean, we had the honour of attending many tanker christenings. These were always great moments governed by an immutable protocol.
Two baptisms particularly marked me
The first, and probably the most beautiful one I've ever been lucky enough to attend, took place in Amsterdam. It was in 1953. We left early in the morning by special train from the North Station. The weather was fine and it was the flower season in the Netherlands. The fields were covered with dahlias. The ship was called the Cybèle and her christening was sumptuous. I remember the young son - 7 years old - of the shipyard manager dressed as a Dutch sailor and the French and Dutch anthems. We were given a guided tour of the ship. After the festivities, all the guests had the privilege of taking a private tour of the RijksMuseum and were invited to a gala dinner at the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam where we stayed.
The other baptism that comes to mind is that of the Fabiola. It was in 1960. Initially planned in Dunkirk, the christening was relocated to Le Havre because of a strike by the shipyard workers but also because the priest had gone wrong. A special four-car train had been chartered from Paris-Saint-Lazare to transport the guests. Each time, it was a whole ceremony and protocol that was scrupulously followed to the letter. On arrival, a platform was reserved for the guests who were welcomed by the Prefect, the Sub-Prefect and the gendarmerie. Then speeches were made, the parish priest blessed the ship, the godmother sent the bottle of champagne to crash on the hull and my mother-in-law received a magnificent bouquet. As for the launching of the boat, there was always something very impressive. The huge hull slid on wooden rails covered with tallow before plunging into the water causing huge sheaves. The workers ran to collect the tallow to make candles. This time, on returning from Le Havre, our train had even been suddenly stopped... at the express request of the authorities. We had to get on board Mr. Paul Raynaud, President of the Council, who had to get to Paris quickly...