Legion Pulp: Man at Arms

Man at ArmsHere is the last Foreign Legion pulp story for this year.  It’s written by Georges Surdez and was featured as a “Foreign Legion Novelette” in the August 1939 issue of Adventure.  I’ve not read it yet but will do so tonight and comment on the story later on.  It weighs in at a hefty 22MB (34 pages and five graphics).  I prefer the black and white appearance of these stories as they are usually easier to read so I tried out a new program called Scan TailorThere were some “incompetent user” issues with selecting the content of each page and also some problems getting the size of the .tif’s down to a manageable level.  You might want to right-click-save-as to your desktop before opening.

Man at Arms

Notes:  I think Man at Arms is one of the best of Georges Surdez’s Foreign Legion tales.  He really developed and breathed extra life into his characters especially Guarnec–the lumbering Breton and closest friend (and bad influence) of Sergent Fremont.  The generic backdrop of conflict in this story is North Africa after WWI with the French pitted against non-specific Berber enemies.  It’s an ideal setting for any classic Foreign Legion story and Surdez does not let himself get bogged down with any historical facts and details but at the same time he is accurate in his description of terrain, tactics, weapons, and the Foreign Legion.  His approach to writing about the Foreign Legion (and to be fair, so is that of Robert Carse but to a lesser degree J. D. Newsom and Ted Roscoe) is similar to the good writers of westerns.  Western fans enjoy the cowboy lingo, accurate descriptions of weapons, horses, Indians and the old West and don’t care too much about exactly what year such and such event occurred.  Fans of the Foreign Legion genre enjoy the varied backgrounds and quirks of each character, rich examples about the Legion’s traditions and toughness on and off the battlefield, a bit of French, Arabic and maybe German lingo thrown into the dialog for spice, and the exotic settings of conflict such as the Sahara desert, the Rif Mountains or the jungles of Tonkin.  What’s important in both genres is a compelling story and lots of action and Surdez delivers the goods here in large quantities but he also clearly understands the Foreign Legion like no other fiction writer.  In fact, it is certain Foreign Legion traditions and their concepts of harsh but fair discipline that play a big role in this tale.

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Legion News Clippings 2

Here is a small collection of news items I’ve collected from the web about the Foreign Legion.  These clippings are often very interesting and frequently serve as a launching point for further research into the names and events mentioned.  For example the short article on Frederick Farrar’s redeeming his reputation in the First World War is about the former domestic chaplain (at Sandringham) to King George who fled England in late 1911 after a scandal over another woman (immorality) and instances of drunkenness.  They actually put out a warrant for his arrest but he was one step ahead of the coppers.  One wonders where he hid for those years from late 1911 until he popped up on the battlefields of France as a decorated legionnaire in 1916?   Rumors had him in Northwest Canada or hiding underground in London.  A more reliable article indicated he left for Austria with his wife but after the scandal broke, his newly wed American wife, Nora Davis, returned to the United States with her well known brother Richard Harding Davis but there was never any mention of Farrar following after her.  I would like to believe that when he fled to Europe and possible France, as one newspaper speculated, he actually went and joined the French Foreign Legion to bury his indiscretions and start anew.   Also, the mention of George Ullard in his role of trench line troubadour in “Strenuous Life in Foreign Legion” (page 9) is confirmed in several other contemporary articles.  He seemed to enchant the Germans in the opposing trenches with his singing on several occasions prior to his death.

I hope you enjoy reading these as well as I did.

Legion News Clippings 2

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Hodgepodge November 2014

I was away for much of the weekend so this post is a day later than usual but here are some of the interesting Foreign Legion related items I found on the web during the last month.

1.  France’s North African Empire II.  Here is an interesting article I found about France’s recent operations in North Africa.  It’s not entirely about the Foreign Legion but it is about their old stomping ground in the western Sahara.  (My ¢ .02: Like many other former colonies around the world it seems most of these north African countries (Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Mauritania, Chad, Libya and Niger) are destined to become failed states beset by corruption, ethnic disputes and the ever-retarding influence of radical Islam.  The big 1960’s socialist-led push for Western powers to jettison their colonial possessions prematurely is finally revealed for the failure it was then and is now.  No politically correct mantra can say these countries are better off now than they would have been if they were kept under administrative and military control of their colonial power.)


2.  Forlorn Hope Soldiers.  Michel, a reader of this blog, recently pointed me to his Facebook page and pictures of his 54mm desert fort (below).  It’s a very nice construction and must take up half his dinner table at that scale.  The next steps I would recommend would be a flagpole with the tricolor and some interior furniture such as water barrels, a bench or two, and some ladders.


3.  Foreign Legion Fort at Bou Denib.   Here is a super awesome desert fort W.I.P. of the Bou Denib blockhouse.  It appears to be made with the intention of creating resin copies for use with the ever developing line of 28mm Foreign Legion Miniatures at Unfeasibly Miniatures.  More pics here.


4.    Triumph & Tragedy in northern Africa.  This 2008 after action report from the Hamburger Tactica show somehow eluded me these these last years.  It shows a really nice table complete with a Beau Geste type desert fort and a neighboring village and lots of action.


5.  Foreign Legion “Twin Machine Guns” Arcade Game.  I know this game has nothing to do with history, war gaming, miniatures or literature but it’s still an interesting example of how the Foreign Legion had permeated various nooks and cranny’s of our popular culture over the years.  It was made in 1971 when even the Men’s Adventure pulps were dying off and six years before The Last Remake of Beau Geste.  Go here for more information.

6. French Foreign Legion: 3e REI & 2e RE.  Here is a video on the modern Foreign Legion that is pretty interesting.  I’m surprised at how many legionnaires from the UK and Commonwealth countries are in the Foreign Legion.  The reputation of these English speakers is that they are more likely to desert than other nationalities but the ones that stay in make the best legionnaires.

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Grit Gregson: Trouble at the Barracks

Trouble in the BarracksIt’s Saturday morning here in cold and gloomy Wisconsin.  The time of week formerly reserved for kids to get up early and sit before the TV in their pajamas to watch cartoons and adventure shows.  So, in the spirit of Saturday mornings long past, here is a bit of juvenile fun from the British comic Lion (15 May 1954).  Lesson learned–don’t mess with a Legionnaire’s food.

Grit Gregson_Trouble at the Barracks

(NOTE:  These Lion comics were posted to the usenet comic newsgroups a couple years ago so many thanks goes to the original up-loaders.)

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Legion Pulp: Isabelle Eberhardt: The Legion’s Most Wanted Woman

EberhardtThis month’s pulp fiction story is from the May 1957 edition of Ken for Men which was one of the many titles of  “Men’s Real Adventure” genre of magazines that proliferated in the 1950’s – 1970’s.  It flagrantly and luridly fictionalizes the real life of writer Isabelle Eberhardt.  Eberhardt was associated with the Foreign Legion in several instances of her time in North Africa.  Her half-brother joined the Legion in 1888 and she moved to Algeria shortly after and began her unique career as a writer, reporter and activist on behalf of the native inhabitants of North Africa under French rule.  This got her kicked out of Africa until she married an Algerian Cavalry NCO, gained French citizenship and returned to her adopted land.  She was also a war reporter that covered the incidents surrounding the battle of Moungar in 1903.  I believe she also acted as a nurse to wounded legionnaires that were brought back to the hospital in Aïn Séfra after that battle.  She died tragically in the massive flood that hit Aïn Séfra in 104.  …and if you read the story, as tragic as her life was at times and that fact she was abused by French officers, I’m pretty sure she was not dragged behind a horse for two hours by sadistic Legionnaires.  This embellishment and the sexual undertones are simply the spice and flavor you will find in these type of magazines.  If you are interested in the real Isabelle Eberhardt you can find many leads on her at this link.  There is also a movie on her life.

The Legion’s Most Wanted Woman

From the website Mens Pulp Mags I found out that “Ken for Men was one of many postwar men’s magazines published by pulp mogul, Martin Goodman. It was one of his “Diamond Group” of men’s mags, along with Stag, Male, Men, Man’s World, For Men Only and others.”  

isabelle-eberhardt isabelle-eberhardt2

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The Legion by Gustave Babin

The record of the French Foreign Legion in World War I is exemplary by any standards.  The RMLE (the last task organization that the Legion fought in for most of the war, 11 Nov 1915-20 Sep 1920) was one of France’s most decorated units.   There were 42,883 Foreign Legion volunteers during the war.  Of these, 157 officers and 5,172 legionnaires were killed.  Another 500 officers and more than 25,000 legionnaires were wounded.  This amounted to a casualty rate of almost 70%.   This short article summarizes those heroic sacrifices made by the Legion during that conflict and explains why the French showered this unit with awards and special citations for bravery.  It originally appeared in the French Weekly  periodical L’Illustration on 19 Jan 1918.  Gustav Babin was a long time French reporter and later war correspondent for L’Illustration.  I found this English translation on Hathi Trust.  It appears to have been donated by William Farnsworth to the Harvard University Library.  William Farnsworth is undoubtedly the father of  Henry Weston Farnsworth, a Harvard graduate who joined the Foreign Legion on 05 January 1915 and was killed on the battlefield 28 September that same year near Navarin Farm, Champagne, France.  This must have been one of several books and papers of Henry and his father that was donated to the library for the Henry Weston Farnsworth Room (created in 1916 in honor of Henry).   Pictures below show the two fourragere and the Legion honor guard referred to in the article.

The Legion by Gustave Babin



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Hodgepodge October 2014

This month’s French Foreign Legion randomness….

1.  Steampunk French Militaire.  Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam is a newer release from Osprey Publishing.  It features fantastical uniform prints and background information for various national armed forces as they would be depicted in a Steampunk / Victorian era from 1887 to 1895.  Countries included are Great Britain, France, Germany, United States and Confederate States of America, Russia, Austo-Hungarian Empire, Italy, Japan and The Minor Powers.  Here are some teasers from the French  forces.

2.  Kazakshtani in French Foreign Legion.  I never get tired of reading how some Legionnaires decided to join the Foreign Legion and their experiences therein.  In this news story it seems that Jean-Claude Van Damme is still an inspiration to potential bleusArticle.


3. Beau Sabreur Book Review.  I stumbled on a nice blog (Strange at Ecbatan) who’s proprietor  reviews old best sellers and forgotten popular books.  One of his reviews is on P.C. Wren’s Beau Sabreur.

4.  Mali Update.  A great news report here on the ongoing operation (Operation Serval) currently taking place in in the Ifoghas Mountains.  The 2REP is depicted in the video and although the announcer says this is part one of a two part report I cannot find the second video. 

Some background on last years fighting can be found here.  Update on the very recent combat is here.

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Warrior’s Ritual

Warrior's RitualSeeing as how Halloween is just around the corner here is a creepy treat called Warrior’s Ritual.  It comes from the pages of Creepy magazine (#112, October 1979)–a Warren comic book magazine that ran from 1964 to 1983.   You can find several issues of Creepy and other Warren titles on the Internet Archive.  Comic magazines were much different than your standard Superman, Archie or X-Men comics.  They had more pages (sometimes over 100 compared to the usual 36) and the format was larger (8.5″ X 11″ compared to 6.5′ X 10″).  They usually had a nice slick color cover (four panels) but the interior art was almost always black and white, pen and ink (an exception being Heavy Metal and some other science fiction titles).  Growing up I devoured these types of magazines to include Conan, Eerie (Creepy’s twin), Mad, Cracked, and, when I could sneak them into the house, Vampirella and Heavy Metal.

Warrior’s Ritual

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The French Foreign Legion by John Robert Young

The French Foreign Legion: The Inside Story of the World-Famous Fighting Force by John Robert Young with Erwan Bergot and Len Deighton (Introduction).  1985.  220 pages.

This book may look familiar to readers.  It has been around in various reprints, formats and languages since first published in 1984.  That’s thirty years ago and yet it still stands as one of the best books on the French Foreign Legion (IMHO).  It was probably one of the first Foreign Legion books I ever bought.  It has been on my bookshelf for as long as I had a bookshelf and so, after reading it yet again, I feel it’s time for a short review.

The French Foreign Legion was written by John Robert Young (a Canadian photo-journalist) but it also contains a forward by Len Deighton (British novelist and military historian) and a 41 page Legion history synopsis written by Erwan Bergot (Former Legion officer and historian).  These chapters are followed by several informational “appendices” that outline the Foreign Legion Regimental Histories; Commanding Officers 1831-1883, Uniforms and Equipment, Customs and Traditions, Roll of Honor, The Legion’s Weapons, Famous Legionnaires, Nationalities in the Foreign Legion, Equivalent Ranks, Select Bibliography.  The Chapter written by Mr. Young (The Legion Today) is the longest and contains his photographs and written commentary that accompanies the photographs (as well as captions for each).

The remarkable thing about this book was that Mr. Young was given full access to the Foreign Legion by the French government and military.  This was unprecedented at the time and represented a huge shift in the Legion’s traditional secretiveness.  He traveled 50,000 miles on this assignment to several far-flung locations to observe the Foreign Legion in action and even participated in training, patrols and parachute jumps.  Locations discussed in his narrative includes include Sidi-Bel-Abbes, Aubagne, Orange, Castelnaudary, Puyloubier, Calvi (Corsica) in France as well as French Guyana and Djibouti.  He visited and talked to Legionnaires from the 2 REP, the 13th DBLE, the 1 REC, and the 3 REI and the Legion headquarters, basic training facilities and their “old soldier’s home”.   Young’s photographs (150 selected out of 3,000 taken) are given prominence over his written descriptions and once I read Bergot’s history section it only took an hour to finish Young’s portion.

Although the book is a bit dated the information within still very much applies to today’s Foreign Legion whose traditions seem to defy time and history.  Young does a good job exploring what motivates those who join the Legion and what he discovers is not surprising.  Most recruits from western countries join for the personal challenge of being in an elite and legendary combat unit while many  others (not all) from the Eastern European nations, Asia, Africa and elsewhere join mainly for the chance to become a French citizen.  He also presents us with evidence that the Legionnaires are actually human beings as well with personalities, families, dreams and ambitions.  Their commanding officers are also shown to be combat tested yet understanding and considerate of the legionnaires in their units.  No author’s “opinions” or “exposes” or “startling revelations” are here and that is what makes this book enjoyable to read.  I found it very truthful.

Besides the authors photographs there are dozens of historical illustrations that accompany Ewan Bergot’s history and another dozen or so at the end where you can find two nice full page uniform prints (see below) and a full two-page photo spread of a Saharan fort (Fort Flatters). The reference sections are also unique and seems to have been pulled from authoritative sources and Legion publications such as the Livre D’or and Kepi Blanc magazine.

All in all this is a great book and highly recommended.  The good thing is that there are many copies to be found at great prices.  There are several on Amazon selling for less than $1.50.



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Legion Pulp: Duty

DutyThis month’s pulp fiction story set in the French Foreign Legion comes from the pen of J. D. Newsom, a prolific writer of these Legion tales.  Duty appeared in the 01 April 1931 edition of Adventure magazine and it is very much a hard-boiled tale.  It’s told in the first person and is so very typical of Newsom’s style to take a Chicago hard-case and drop him into the Foreign Legion, turn up the pressure and see what happens.  This time our narrator is a witness to a tragic incident that profoundly changes his life.


NOTE:  Added missing page 39 to the .pdf on 19 Oct. 

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