The French Foreign Legion by John Robert Young

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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.

Duty

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

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Grit Gregson: The Siege of Fort Mobo

Siege of Fort Mobo

Here is another installment of the adventures of Grit Gregson of the French Foreign Legion.  This time Grit is fighting as part of the besieged Legion garrison of Fort Mobo–a far flung desert outpost far from their garrison at Fort Goulais.  The seemingly endless numbers of fanatical Arab fighters are sure to overwhelm their small detachment unless something audacious is tried.  Leave it to Grit and his pals Buck Baxter and Louis Morel to save the day.  (This story appeared in the 1 May 1954 edition of the British comic Lion.)

The Siege of Fort Mobo

 

 

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Hodgepodge for September 2014

Here are some interesting links for this past September–some new and some old.

LegionBooks1. French Foreign Legion: A Descriptive Bibliography.  This Facebook page of Mr. Savage’s is one I’ve been following for a while now but may have only briefly mentioned on this blog years ago.  It is basically many photographs of his enormous collection of French Foreign Legion literature which just keeps getting larger each time I visit.   Mind boggling how many obscure and collectable books are chronicled here.  The comments for each picture are also interesting.  This pages should definitely friended, book marked and visited frequently.

FFLTumblr2.  A French Foreign Legion Tumblr.  Tumblr is a social networking / microblog application that allows users to post pictures and multimedia.  I stumbled this Tumblr page that has amassed a very large collection of Foreign Legion pictures and graphics.  It’s very nice to browse these and I’ve found many pictures that I’ve never seen before.  The commentary throughout (small quotes and factoids) is nicely done as well. Again, highly recommended to bookmark and visit frequently.

Americans in the FFL3.  First to Fight.  I found a nice informative article on the Americans who served in the Foreign Legion during WWI.  Entitled ‘ENGAGED IN GLORY ALONE’: Yanks in French Foreign Legion Were First to Fight this really gets into the names, numbers, units and dates that is not often pulled together in such articles.  It appeared in the September 2014 issue of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) magazine.  It can be read online here or downloaded below. 

Engaged in Glory Alone

4.  French Foreign Legion Visit.   Here is another Facebook page called Toy Soldiers of Scandinavia.  This one features galleries depicting larger scale (54mm) miniatures–lots of them, all different nations and periods and set up in a wonderful displays.  The ones featuring the Foreign Legion include the following galleries but be sure to check out all the other ones.

French Foreign Legion Visit

Foreign Legion

Foreign Legion Fort

Untitled Album

 

 

 

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Legion News Clippings: Volume 1

0729e94b6c74f34f_largeIn my internet browsing I frequently come across small news articles about the Foreign Legion.  Individually they are nothing spectacular, just interesting tidbits about someone who joined the Foreign Legion (or was shanghaied) or who was cited for bravery or any number of other connections to the Legion.  The larger articles I find are posted separately but I think these smaller pieces are better grouped into small collections.  So here is the first “volume” of random newspaper clippings in no particular order.

NOTES:  The article about the U.S. Navy sailor being shanghaied by the Foreign Legion mentioned a Mr. Walter G. Leathe.  Leathe testified on behalf of the sailor that the same thing had happened to him while on vacation in France.  His exploits can be found in a post made on this blog on 15 December 2013.

The clippings can be hard to read so I gathered them into a .pdf file as well.  If you play around with the zoom function in Acrobat Reader you can adjust them for better reading sizes.

Legion News Clippings VOL 1

 

 

 

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Legion Pulp: The Legion Takes the Field

CoverHere’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.

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Famous Legionnaires: Maurice Brocco

4broccoI 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

 

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Hodgepodge for August 2014

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…

LeGrandHomme

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.

StupidSocialists

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. 

MPW-732895. 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.

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Legion of Outcasts by Hurk Davis

LegionofOutcastsFC 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.

LegionofOutcastsBC

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Legion Pulp: Affair of Honor

AffairHonor (Cvr)(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

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