In my opinion this is one of the most beautiful and powerful songs. Its significance and power is underlined by the fact that the artist who made this song famous, Edith Piaf, dedicated the recording she made of the song in 1960 to the French Foreign Legionnaires, in particular those members of the Foreign Legion’s 1st REP (First Foreign Parachute Regiment), who backed the 1961 Putsch against the Algerian civilian leadership. France had been engaged in a bloody war in Algeria, until 1962 a French Colony, and the Legion had been in the vanguard of that conflict.
On 8 January 1961 the French people voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in favour of Algerian self-determination. The government entered into secret negotiations with pro independence factions in Algeria and the Foreign Legion, and in particular the First Foreign Parachute Regiment, felt betrayed by their government. On 22 April 1961 elements of the First Foreign Parachute Regiment and elements of the French Air Commandos under the command of four retired Generals – Challe, Jouhaud, Zeller and Salan took control of strategic objectives within Algeria with a view to extending the putsch so as to overthrow the French Gaullist government.
By 26 April 2961 the putsch was over and the government had prevailed thanks to General Charles de Gaulle taking to the airwaves and galvanising the support of the French conscripts serving in Algeria denying the professional soldiers who were involved in the putsch both their legitimacy and much needed numbers. Their resistance broken those involved in the putsch surrendered and the leaders and officers were taken to France for trial. The enlisted ranks were reassigned to other French Foreign Legion units. When leaving their barracks to take up their new postings the Legionnaires sang this song.
The lyric ‘Non, je ne regrette rien‘ literally translates to ‘No, I regret nothing‘. The song quickly became associated with the French Foreign Legion such that when the plane carrying the last of the Legionnaires to be pulled out of Algeria touched down at Paris’ Orly airport the song blasting out over the tarmac through the Airport PA system was Non, je ne regrette rien.
On 30 April 1961 the First Foreign Parachute Regiment was permanently disbanded.
The song has become a part of French Foreign Legion history and tradition and is sung whenever the Legion is on parade.
To me this rich history of conflict and passion makes the song all the more powerful and the fact that it has been used to sell coffee among other things is immaterial.