Here’s something different for this months Foreign Legion pulp fiction…a story by Warren Hastings Miller that appeared in the June, 1933, edition of The Blue Book Magazine. Miller was a prolific author of adventure fiction but I’ve seemingly overlooked his contributions to the Foreign Legion genre. His fiction usually appeared in Blue Book but he can also be found occasionally in Argosy, Adventure, Short Stories and other popular pulps. Of note is Miller’s series called the “Hell’s Angels Squad” which consisted of 20+ tales of the Foreign Legion that ran in the monthly Blue Book from about 1928-1934. He also wrote other Foreign Legion stories and adventure yarns set in North Africa, the Middle East and other exotic settings and is equally famous for his writing on the outdoors (he eventually became editor of Field & Stream Magazine) and his South Seas stories.
The Legion Takes the Field is one of Miller’s Hell’s Angels Squad stories. I admit it’s the first time I’ve read one of these. The Hell’s Angels in this story are a squad sized unit (seven men total) on horses equipped with two automatic rifles and mules functioning as ammo bearers. The leader is Sergeant Ike, an American Legionnaire complete with a cowboy drawl. The rest of the squad consists of Criswell (from Michigan), Anzac Bill (Australian), Di Piatti (Italian), Mora (Spanish), Rutli (Swiss), and Calamity Cyclops (a one eyed sharpshooter from who knows where?). Working with the local French Intelligence officer and his 15 loyal tribesmen (goum) it’s up to the Hell’s Angels Squad to act as Advance Guard to a major French operation to pacify a local tribe. Easier said than done.
The Legion Takes the Field
Other titles in Miller’s Hell’s Angels series consist of the following….(thanks Fiction Mags Index). I’ve got to add these Blue Book issues to my wish list for the next Windy City Pulp Convention.
The Hell’s Angels Squad (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Aug 1928
Five Men of the Legion (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Dec 1928
Hell’s Angels Rebel (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Jan 1929
Hell’s Angels Set a Trap (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Mar 1929
Discreet Rescue (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Jul 1929
The Desperation of Mr. Dee (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Aug 1929
The Color-Guard (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Sep 1929
The Honor of the Legion (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Oct 1929
It Takes the Legion (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Nov 1929
Hell’s Angels Ride (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Dec 1929
Calamity Cyclops (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Jan 1930
Cyrano of the Legion (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Feb 1930
Hell’s Angels’ Mascot (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Mar 1930
The Arab Guns (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Jan 1932
Hell’s Angels on Horseback (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Feb 1932
All the Valiant Liars (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Mar 1932
A Route for the Guns (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Aug 1932
Haunted Mountains (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Oct 1932
The Battle of the Soap (ss) The Blue Book Magazine Dec 1934
UPDATE: I recently read more about Warren Hastings Miller in the introduction to Raider of the Seas. It seems this author was a technical writer before he began writing fiction. He made a good living writing technical articles for various magazines and professional trade journals but turned to fiction during a trip to Europe. His attention to detail comes out very strongly in his fictional writing as you can see in this story. All the tribes names are correct, as are the place names and locations of French activity in the Sahara during this time after the war against the Rif in the mid 1920’s. Even his description of the role of the French Intelligence Officer is accurate though the office is technically the Bureau of Native Affairs (aka bureau des affaires indigènes) and had very capably officers on their staff–all fluent in the dialects where they served.
I found an interesting article on French bicyclist Maurice Brocco (28 January 1885 – 26 June 1965) in a Thrilling Adventures pulp (May 1937). It seems this pugnacious athlete had quite a thrilling life well before setting off on his professional biking career in 1906. In 1902, at age 17, Maurice joined the French Foreign Legion just before being called up to serve in his local Army regiment (the annual French draft filled the ranks of hundreds of regiments with bleus from their respective departments and cities). He served well until a bout with fever and illness resulted in him being discharged as medically unfit for service. He eventually recovered well enough to start biking again and pushed himself onward to become one of the legends of professional bicycle racing. His career was interrupted by WWI when Maurice once again joined the military–this time his local regiment. His renowned skills as a bicyclist were put to good use as a courier. On a motorcycle.
The Little Man of the Marne
Another month gone by. It’s realize its been kind of slow for this blog this summer. I think I’ve been doing too many other projects lately that has taken it’s toll on my posting here. It’s amazing that when you finally have more free time (summer vacation) you somehow find more things to occupy that time. (I need a vacation from my vacation I suppose.) I’ll try my best to step it up a notch…the Monlegionnaire blog is over four years old and it’s not going anywhere. Thanks for your patience. Now here are the odds and ends I found this month…
1. Le Grand Homme. This is a recently released movie from director Sarah Leonor that features a former Foreign Legionnaire as the lead character. The plot is set in contemporary France and revolves around a wounded Legion veteran who repays his comrade who saved his life in Afghanistan by looking after his son. A decent review and Youtube link are here. I haven’t seen it yet but will add this to my list.
2. The French Foreign Legion: A Negative Reflection of France’s Values. Here is an interesting article I found at IILIR.eu (The European Institute for International Law and International Relations). It’s a disjointed piece all together, written by one of the many verminous pseudo-intellectuals who tend to gravitate towards organizations such as IILIR. The author, whoever it may be, digs up some old and new incidents of severe hazing and criminality that has cropped up over the years in association with the Foreign Legion and attempts to use those incidents to declare the Foreign Legion incompatible with the ideals of French justice. Also cited is a book written in 2010 (“Foreign Legion: the lost soldiers of the Republic by Stéphane Rodriguez and Benoist Simmat) that was highly critical of the Legion. In typical socialist fashion the intent of the article is to promote the reform of certain Legion practices such as naturalization given to those discharged with a Certificat de Bonne Conduite and the practice of issuing new identities (anonymity) to recruits. ….because, you know, the poor, poor immigrants have it so hard in an organization bloated with the “pregnancy of racism” and it should be easier and fairer to become a French citizen. More at cervens….
3. Atherton Scenics Classic Foreign Legion Fort. These pictures were found on eBay. I have no other information about the company (Atherton/Formtech/Quartermaster Corps) other than they also make WWI trenches and other scenic terrain at 54mm. Nice reference for building your own.
4. Assignment Foreign Legion. I’ve about given up on ever seeing an episode of this 1950’s UK television show. There seems to be no links to any copies online either for sale, or download or video streaming. There were twenty six 30 minute episodes made staring Merle Oberon as a foreign correspondent who is doing research into the Foreign Legion. Like the American kids show Captain Gallant, this show also had the cooperation of the Foreign Legion in North Africa and much of it was shot on location and features some real legionnaires in some scenes. Due to the Algerian FLN insurgency later episodes were filmed back in the safety of Great Britain. An episode guide can be found here. I mention it only because it’s frustrating to think how much good television is seemingly out of reach. Any tips would be appreciated.
5. French Foreign Legion War Game. A couple of quick shots of a convention war game that merges the Yaquinto Album war game rules with a 3D Foreign Legion fort and miniatures. From the colonial war gaming website Tanzanica.
Legion of Outcasts by Hurk Davis (as told to author by Peter Reeves). 313 pages. 1969. Holloway House Publishing Company (HH-161).
Legion of Outcasts is another “Foreign Legion Memoir” that generally follows the same pattern set so many other literary minded legionnaires; general descriptive accounts of early wandering, joining & assessment, travel and arrival to the Regiment, training, some tall tales, and either disillusionment and desertion or completion of the five year contract. The time frame for this book is roughly 1960-1962 which is a bit outside the scope of my blog but I felt I should make note of it because it’s a damn good book. In fact, it was so interesting and descriptive that I finished it in two days.
Peter Reeves was a Dutchman who was raised in a large family but somehow become the family’s black sheep. At the first opportunity he leaves Holland to travel the world and eventually works in the United States for 15 years. A family wedding draws him back home for what he hopes would be a happier reunion with his estranged parents and siblings. When this doesn’t work out as he hopes he travels to Paris (for his very first time) to see the famous art museums there. In Paris he quickly runs through his money and finds himself joining the Foreign Legion at the age of 37. After some funny accounts of time in Marseilles and Side Bel Abbes he is assigned to the Legion base at Saïda for basic training. He is awarded his Kepi Blanc and selected for follow-on medic training at Sidi Bel Abbes. He effortlessly fits in despite not speaking French very well and seems to thrive under the hard training in North Africa. Upon completion of his medical training he returned to Saida and functioned as a Battalion medic–now wearing the green beret that was adopted for regular wear in 1959.
All was not well in Algeria however. During Reeves’ time in the Legion the country was being torn apart by an Arab nationalist insurgency that started in 1954. Reeves was a witness and to a certain degree a victim of the 1961 rebellion against President DeGaulle by various paratroop and Foreign Legion units. His own Battalion commander sided with the rebellious OAS (Organisation de l’armée secrète) during the “Generals’ Putsch” but quickly jumped back to command when the revolt fizzled out. Hundreds of regular legionnaires had switched sides to the OAS or simply took an opportunity to desert what was becoming an unrewarding military obligation. The very future of the Foreign Legion was in doubt (everyone thought DeGaulle would disband it for good). Peter Reeves decides one day that he too should desert and never returns to his barracks from an errand. He prepared well and has the intention of walking to Oran or Algiers and hopping a ship to Europe. This was a very exciting part of the book and he gets quite some distance before being ratted out by a local and arrested by French military.
It was only after being captured did Reeves’ stint in the Foreign Legion turn from boring garrison medical duties to an unbelievable six months of beatings, abuse and torture at the Disciplinary Company at Aïn Séfra. His incarceration covers only the last sixth of the book but it was the most startling to read. Endless make-work projects in the broiling Saharan sun coupled with brutal and senseless attacks by the sadistic guards pushes Reeves to his limits and it was his body that ultimately fails and almost kills him. After six months of living hell he finishes his sentence and faces his fate at the hands of the revolving door Legion Courts Martial: either complete his five years of service in the Legion or be dishonorably discharged. He has no kind words to say about the Legion to the presiding officials and they decide he should be discharged. Adieu!
This book is billed as Adult Reading by the publisher but there really was nothing obscene in here and it all came across more like a Real Man Adventures pulp type of story. Lots of information on brothels and prostitutes and some early chapter encounters (one with another man!) but I’m not sure this warranted the “Adult” label at all. What I liked most is the accurate, well written description of just about every aspect of the Foreign Legion that he encountered. I guess this would be due to author Hurk Davis but Reeves evidently has a great memory. Legion of Outcasts is a real straight forward memoir full of anecdotes, detailed descriptions of garrison and field life and populated with those amazing personalities you seem to find only in the French Foreign Legion.
(Today’s post is a little late again–it’s August and we took a small vacation.) But anyway, this is another Georges Surdez short story which appeared in the April 1937 issue of Adventure. The plot concerns a young, fiesty lieutenant, newly assigned to the Moroccan front, named d’Herviller. He is quickly awarded for valor and wins the respect of his hard-bitten legionnaires. However, when he meets his Battalion commander, just before a big offensive, it is revealed that the two men are bound one’s actions from the distant past.
Affair of Honor
Here is another short story from the pages of the UK comic Lion. This one appeared 06 February 1954. Grit Gregson, Fighter in the Foreign Legion, infiltrates an Arab rebellion and almost loses his head to Al-Qaeda fanatics before calling in an airstrike. No–not really. Actually, one well placed rifle shot and some Legion back up actually get the perpetually aggrieved hotheads to put up their hands and meekly submit to captivity.
Grit Gregson_Will the Arabs Rebel
Some of the odds and ends related to the Foreign Legion that I discovered this past month…
1. Regiments of the French Foreign Legion. Here is a very nice documentary on the Foreign Legion. Though titled “Regiments of” it is really much broader in scope and covers modern deployments and training interlaced with bits of Legion history and plenty of interviews of legionnaires and coverage of day to day life.
2. French Foreign Legion Miniatures. A couple nice reviews of several sets of Foreign Legion related miniature figures can be found on the Bolt Action.net website. The first article reviews Gorgon Miniatures which depict members of the 13th DBLE figures from the 1940 campaign in Norway. There are two other articles which introduce WWII era Foreign Legion and Senegalese figures. There is also a great article on painting the Senegalese figures from Griping Beast.
3. World War One and Harvard. I actually remembered to tell my wife and kids a couple days ago that in Sarajevo about 100 years ago on 28 June, World War One was sparked by the assassination of the Austrian-Hungarian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife and that the big shooting match began in earnest in August. I’m looking forward to the upcoming documentaries, articles, book releases and other commemorative events related to The Great War. One of these appeared on the Harvard College website entitled “The Choicest of their Kind” and is about those “Harvard men” who fought. The first Harvard man to die was Edward Mandell Stone. He was serving in the Foreign Legion at the time as were many others such as Alan Seeger.
4. Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Speaking about The Great War, here is a new video game from Ubisoft that fellow grognards might enjoy. The graphics are kind of odd to me but it looks very nice and features a composite American Legionnaire. Game review here.
5. Black Hat Miniatures. There are five sets (Exotic Adventures) of 28mm Foreign Legion miniatures available from Black Hat that look very nice and appear compatible with figures from other manufacturers. Link They also have some Tauregs to do battle with the legionnaires. They are produced under license by Unfeasibly Miniatures whose press release notes: “The range depicts the French Foreign Legion at the turn of the 19th Century in Northern Africa, immortalized in the stories of Beau Geste by P.C. Wren. The range includes Tuareg’s, who resisted the French colonial invasion of their Central Saharan homelands. We have two more packs of Legionnaires with improvised weapons which will be released as soon as production moulds have been made. Mark at Unfeasibly has plans to expand on the range to add mounted troops.”
I found a very informative and entertaining article on this movie in the June 1936 edition of Romantic Movie Stories (a movie/romance pulp of the time). This 1936 version is the fourth film adaption of the famous 1867 novel by Ouida (pseudonym of the English novelist Maria Louise Ramé) which actually featured the French Chasseurs d’Afrique and not the Foreign Legion for it’s romantic setting. This article gently weaves together the action and plot with anecdotes about the making of the movie and the directors, actors and actresses involved. They also seemed to have found the same spot in the California desert that was the filming location for other Foreign Legion films such as Beau Geste and there are references to the Yuma set. I smiled a bit when I noticed the town name of Saida corresponded to the 2nd Regiment’s insignia on the legionnaire’s collar–as the Algerian town of Saïda was actual location of the 2REI until the 1960’s. I haven’t seen the movie as it is hard to find a copy but there are some Youtube videos (Making Under Two Flags & another short clip) that give some further insight. Like other features in the magazine this one begins with a nice double splash page as seen below. (the poster came from the wonderful Dr. Macro site)
I can’t help but speculate that it was Ouida’s novel that ultimately gave us rough around the edges pied noir cafe girls, dingy Legion drinking joints, and garrison town intrigue and romance that are such common features to Foreign Legion stories and movies. P.C. Wren certainly found this setting suited many of his novels as did many other early writers and film makers.
Under Two Flags
This short pulp story comes from the pages of Thrilling Adventures fiction magazine–specifically the July 1936 issue. It was written by Ralph Milne Farley which was a pen name for Roger Sherman Hoar who wrote for several pulp titles between the two world wars and after his early career in Massachusetts politics. Thrilling Adventures was a late competitor to the long running Adventure but only lasted from 1931 until 1943. This is a quick read and says much for planning ahead. (Picture is not from the story.)
Here is a short story featuring the Grit Gregson, a British legionnaire who gets mixed up in many North African adventures. Grit was a popular feature in the early issues of the weekly UK comic called Lion (King of Picture Story Papers). This particular issue, #100, came out 16 January 1954. It’s obviously tailored to the junior ages but I give it credit for at least making the kids read something other than comic dialogue balloons. The plot is somewhat exciting too and actually has some hard lessons for modern counterinsurgency. I took some liberty with the illustration as it struck me that it depicted three very thirsty legionnaires.
The Wine Barrel’s Secret