A resident of Warrawee, John McColl, was granted the honour of becoming an Officer of the French Legion of Honour at an investiture ceremony presided over by General Francois Loeuillet in Sydney on 11 November 2016.
State Member for Ku-ring-gai, Alister Henskens SC, described Mr McColl’s award as “an extraordinary honour” for an Australian citizen.
“The Legion of Honour is the highest French order for military and civil merits and was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte”, Mr Henskens said today. “It is awarded to foreign nationals very rarely and only to those who have served France, or the ideals that it holds, with great distinction.”
Mr McColl was previously awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2009 for his service to the community through the promotion and development of cultural, educational and business relationships between France and Australia.
“John’s contribution to French/Australian relations, particularly in the area of education, has been substantial and unique in my experience”, said Mr Henskens.
“Amongst other things, he was elected on four occasions over 23 years to represent Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific in the French Parliament (the Assemblee de Francaise de L’Etranger) and he was very active in the establishment of the French Australian School of Sydney in 1991 and similar projects in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.”
Mr McColl, who was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer and graduated in Economics at the University of Lille, is the grandson of a Scottish soldier who settled in France after fighting in the Battle of the Somme during the First World War.
He migrated to Australia in 1971 and was employed for about 18 years by Banque Nationale de Paris as a senior corporate banker responsible for the promotion of French investment and the establishment of French companies in Australia. Between 1994 and 2007, he also facilitated the integration of French people in Australia as the President of UFE (Union des Francais de l’Etranger) and he continues to assist French residents or non-residents in New South Wales who are in need of assistance.
Mr McColl is currently the Deputy Chairman of the Board responsible for the construction of a new school to accommodate up to 130 students in the French village of Pozieres, the scene of over 23,000 Australian casualties in fierce fighting over six weeks in 1916. It was because the 18th battalion of the Australian forces, comprised primarily of soldiers from Ku-ring-gai, fought with such distinction at Pozieres that it was renamed the Ku-ring-gai Regiment.
It is hoped that the school, to be named the Charles Bean School after Australia’s war correspondent and official historian, will have a bilingual curriculum with a particular emphasis on “things Australian” and Australia will contribute 60% of the building cost. The intention is that the school will reflect a vision of Australia and the legacy for the Australians who die and rest there today.