Joyeux Camerone!

Camerone Day!

Camerone Day is the sacred day of the French Foreign Legion.  It is celebrated by legionnaires wherever they may be in the world.  It commemorates the 1863 battle in Mexico when 63 men of the 3rd Company of the 1st Regiment fought over 2,000 Mexican infantry, cavalry and irregulars.  My favorite quote appears on the 1892 memorial erected on the site of the battle which reads: “Here there were less than sixty opposed to a whole army. Its numbers crushed them. Life rather than courage abandoned these French soldiers on April 30, 1863.  In their memory, the motherland has erected this monument”

Here are some Camerone Day related bits that I thought would be appropriate for today…

affiche-camerone-20161. Camerone 2016 Official Web Site.  This website shows how the Foreign Legion headquarters at Aubagne is celebrating Camerone Day.  Clicking on the Programs link you can see the agendas for the other Legion Regiments and major commands.  The theme for this year’s celebration is 40 Years of Overseas Operations.  Next year, if you plan on attending any of these events which are usually open to the public, make sure you plan ahead, arrive early and follow instructions carefully.

vlcsnap-2016-04-30-12h25m11s22. Camerone Day 1944 (Sidi Bel Abbes).  Here is a fantastic video of the 1944 observance of Camerone held in Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria–the home of the Legion from 1843 until 1962. Here is a rough Google translation: “This is a short story of the film department of the French Army dedicated to the Foreign Legion on the occasion of the commemoration of Camarón that celebrated the heroism of the legionaries who, on April 30, 1863, bravely withstood Mexican soldiers during the Mexican War (1862 -1867) and mark each year the festival of Legionnaires military tradition.

This film from April 30, 1944, shows the anniversary of this feat of arms in Sidi-bel-Abbes, the cradle of the Foreign Legion, which is decked out for the occasion and receives André Diethelm, Commissar of War, General de Lattre de Tassigny, General Bethouart and other civilian and French and allied military.  The ceremony begins with a tribute to the dead in front of the memorial of the Legion (representing a globe surrounded by four statues of legionnaires at different times).  Then, during the call to arms, the Battle of Camarón is told in voiceover.  Finally, preceded by music, Legion troops on foot and vehicles parade through the streets of Sidi-bel-Abbes, before a large crowd while the commentary highlights the recovered union Legionnaires since 1940 and their contribution to the next Allied victory.”

3.  3rd Foreign Parachute Regiment Camerone Menu.  Here is an oddity I found recently.  A copy of the menu for the 3rd B.E.P.  (3e Bataillon Étranger de Parachutistes), one of the first Foreign Legion airborne units .  It was formed in November of 1949 and used mainly to train replacements for the 1st and 2nd Battalions who were serving in Indochina.  It was stationed in Tunisia and also helped maintain order in that country.  The 3rd B.E.P. was itself sent overseas (to Haiphong) in 1954 before returning to Tunisia in 1955.  In September of that year it become the 3rd Parachute Regiment (3REP) for all of three months before being merged into the 2nd Parachute Regiment (2REP).  This breakfast menu is from 01 May 1955.

4.  Pegaso Camerone Diorama.  This short article is from issue #21 (Mar-Apr 1998) of the French language hobby magazine Figurines discusses the 54mm Camerone figure set / vignette from Pegaso.  Here is another look at these figures at Algu’s World of Miniatures.

MiniatureDio

Figurinesn21 (Camerone Dio)

5.  Kepi Blanc Camerone Poster Contests.  Kepi Blanc Magazine, the official publication of the Foreign Legion, has been running a Camerone poster contest since 2007.  At their website you can view the selected entries for the years 2007, 2008. 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.  Not sure what happened to 2014, 2015 and 2016.  Perhaps they no longer run the competition.  Here are a couple of entries from 2013–the 150th Anniversary of Camerone.

6.  The Battle of Camerone.  I want to give credit to whomever wrote this background paper on The Battle of Camerone but have no recollection of where I downloaded it.  It is a well done historical summary with several illustrations about this famous event.  Worth reading and saving.  Much better than some accounts even with the dreaded “comic” font used in the .pdf.

The Battle of Camerone

7.  Recit Historique de la bataille de “Camerone”.  Here is another document that has many interesting items relating to Camerone.  Text is in French but you can still see the list of the 63 Legionnaires who fought at the battle.  It’s interesting to note that 17 of the 61 were still alive when the smoke cleared.  Their names are on pages 13-15.

CAMERONE-2013-V05

8.  Camerone Day Blog.  I link to this incredible gaming page each year.  One cannot get enough of this table top layout of Camerone.

CameroneDayBlog

9.  First Video.  Here is the first video I found of the event held today at Augbagne.  More are sure to follow but I’ll close out this post for now and perhaps update it tomorrow.

 

 

 

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French Forlorn Legion

CrackedMadAdjudant…I was saving that bacon……….er, saving this comic strip from a vintage Cracked Magazine (issue #4, September 1958).  But since it’s so near to Camerone Day I figured now is the time….     Cracked Magazine was a very strong competitor to the more popular Mad Magazine which was first published in the fall of 1952.  Both were screwball black and white comic books featuring some really outstanding artwork by a host of wonderful artists such as John Severin who did such an amazing job on this three page piece and Bill Ward who took some time off drawing his usual big boobed risque comics to provide regular panels for Cracked.  This piece has no plot of course and is a slapstick play on the Foreign Legion genre.  …but what incredible art work…just look at the faces on the first page–I see Elvis, Gary Cooper, Erroll Flynn, General MacArthur, and Laurel and Hardy.  If you look closely you will find written on the wall..Faut pas s’en faire.  Which means, in a simple form “Why Worry?”  or maybe… in the words of Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine “What, Me Worry?”. 

Forlorn Legion

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1980’s Kepi Blanc Magazines

Engaged in a never ceasing effort to organize and back-up my digital files I discovered that I had some collections of Kepi Blanc magazine.  So I decided to combine the images into pdf’s and share them.  These are not my scans and also not the highest quality but you can read most of the text.  The issues below include the December 1980 (#397), March 1983 (#422), and June 1983 (#425).

In looking through these magazines I found that the older issues seem to include slightly more articles and pictures on the Foreign Legion’s history, badges, and famous personalities than the larger more slick issues published today.  The modern magazine whose current issue is April 2016 (#780) is still very enjoyable to look through but lacks articles like you find in the older magazines.  For example in issue #397 you had two features on Legion insignias (and another on stamp collecting), two historical pieces on former Foreign Legion officers who passed away in 1980 (“Le Batallion Cazaban” and “La Pere Nais”), a short story for Christmas, a poem, a reprint of an article from Kepi Blanc issue #60 (L’Indo Chine: Partout ou le Devoir Fait Signe), and an article on the Foreign Legion museum.  Issues #422 and #425 also had good historical pieces and the insignia feature.

Kepi Blanc n397

Kepi Blanc n422

Kepi Blanc n425

NOTE:  April 30th is Camerone Day! I hope to make several posts around that day so please check back here regularly. 

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Legion Pulp: The Blue Squadron

TheBlueSquadronThis month’s pulp story is from the 10 April 1940 issue of Short Stories–just over 76 years ago if you think about it.  It is written by a mysterious gent called Juan Cabrera de Moya who wrote a handful of exotic stories mainly for Short Stories and Blue Book.  Not sure if he is for real or a creation of one of the regular writers on the staff.  In addition to the story below is an additional two page feature about de Moya and the Foreign Legion of the late 1930’s.

The Blue Squadron features men of the Compagnies Méharistes (Camel mounted auxiliaries led by French officers), some Senegalese Tirailleurs and several hard cases from the Foreign Legion.  The story takes place in the northern fringes of the Sahara Desert and features rebellious Tuaregs as the featured villains, many any of whom eagerly die for Allah and for the reward of 72 little virgin boys/girls/white raisins.  There are a lot of characters to keep straight but it is a good story.  

The Blue Squadron

Juan Cabrera de Moya

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Hodgepodge for March 2016

A day late again on this one and I also have no reason to post this on April Fools Day since there is nothing foolish here.  Here are some random things I’ve found over the month related to the French Foreign Legion.

1. Traces of the Foreign Legion.  This is a neat web-page devoted to world travel that offers up some observations of the author’s visit to the deserted French forts of the Sahara.  The text is in German but the pictures speak volumes.  Depicted here are the ruins of a”Fort Serouénout”, which is not on my list of French Forts so I’m thinking it might have a different name and I’ll have to do some more research and compare pictures.

FortTamanrasset2. WorLard, Sharp Practice, Practice!  This is a short blog post that shows a neat Foreign Legion war game fort.  It lacks any description of the battle played out on this terrain other that it was only a “dry run”.  Hopefully some color pictures will follow when the battle commences in earnest.  NOTE:  Lots of other good stuff on the blog as well.

Fortwargame1

3.  185th Anniversary of the French Foreign Legion.  09 March 1831.  This date slipped past me somehow.  It is technically the date of the birth of the French Foreign Legion.  When King Louis Philippe signed the decree authorizing the formation of a Legion of Foreigners (Légion d’Etrangers).  There are a couple of articles about this and the best is from Osprey Publishing Blog that is well illustrated from their publications.

Foreign_Legion_14.  Foreign Legion Tribute Video.  Here is a well done motivational video depicting the Foreign Legion (mainly the 2nd Parachute Regiment) in various settings accompanied for the first portion by some Linkin Park music.  NOTE: You need to watch it in YouTube.

5.  Update to Legion Fort: Chegga.  A very kindly reader provided some updated information on one of the most isolated French Forts in Africa located in the very upper northeast part of Mauritania.  See the comments here or go to this website to see the great pictures.

Chegga Courtyard N_corner

6.  Some Foolery.  Fooled you.…….Here’s some foolishness–a couple of clips from one of my favorite movies The Flying Deuces starring Laurel and Hardy.  The first is an awkward scene of camaraderie and foot care and the other appears to be the easiest desertion from the Legion on record.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Legion Pulp: What I Want, I Take

Adventure1941-03_008Here is another finely written tale from Georges Surdez.  It appeared in the April 1941 issue of Adventure; when the octopus of Japanese aggression and brutality spread across Asia day by day and the people of the world were getting more and more desperate.  It is a tale of those marooned Foreign Legion troops (from the 5th Regiment) who, remaining loyal to Vichy France, had to abide an uneasy occupation by their hated “allies” of the Japanese military or resist..

What I Want, I Take

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The Iron Men of Marreka

MarrakaAction galore with the fighting men of the French Foreign Legion!  Here is a quick story from the UK comic The Hotspur Book for Boys (1967 Yearbook).  (Of course I took some liberty with the first panel.)

The Iron Men of Marreka

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Hodgepodge for February 2016

Here are some of the interesting items I’ve found this past month.  …concerning the French Foreign Legion of course.

1REI

1. Classic Legion Personalities.  Here is a neat article (in French) that helps identify some of the figures seen in this great photograph.  It originally appeared on this website which also has several other categories of vintage black and white photographs.

2.  My Afternoon with the French Foreign Legion.  This article from the UK Spectator is short but interesting.  Interesting comments below the article too.

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3.  General Christian Piquemal Arrested.  I was not sure about posting this item but it was very discomforting to read what happened to this French General and former commander of the French Foreign Legion.  Pequemal became a Lieutenant in 1962 and joined the Foreign Legion in the next year.  He was a paratrooper in the 2nd Parachute Regiment (2REP) and served in North Africa and New Caledonia.  He eventually became the commander of the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment from 1985 to 1987 and later became the commander of the Foreign Legion 1994 to 1999.  He was recently arrested for participating in a banned rally against the immigration situation in Calais and faces up to a year in prison.

It’s inconceivable to me, as an American, that French authorities can exercise such sweeping dictatorial powers to effectively squash nationalist protests such as this.  I will insert my political opinion here and say —never trust Socialists!  President Holland, using the extended state of emergency powers that was given to his government after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, is now using these powers to keep the right wing elements in their place.  One would think he would stay focused on defeating terrorism and not his political enemies.

4. Foreign Legion 2016.  Here is a gem of a video that shows some English speaking legionnaires fooling around with a video cam and doing some impromptu introductions of the different nationalities one might find in the Legion.  They were all in Mayotte and waiting to proceed on to France after “four months in hell”.  Anyone who was in the military would appreciate the hi-jinks.

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Twixt Hell and Allah – Five Sous a Day by Francis A. Waterhouse

DSC00683Twixt Hell and Allah by Francis A. Waterhouse (Ex-Legionnaire 1484) in collaboration with R. Kenneth Macaulay. Sampson, Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., London 1931. Illustrated with 5 B&W photos. 268 pages.

Five Sous a Day by Francis A. Waterhouse (Ex-Legionnaire 1484).  Sampson, Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., London 1933.  248 pages.

I’ve finished these two books late last year and because they are so similar I felt it necessary to review them together.  Both are memoirs written by Englishman Francis A. Waterhouse describing his 2+ years in the French Foreign Legion (from June 1924 to late 1926).  Waterhouse’s works are contemporary to books written by the American Legionnaire Bennett Doty and his English partner in their ill-fated attempt at desertion, John Harvey.  These two both served in the 5th BN of the 4th Foreign Legion Regiment (V/4REI) often alongside Waterhouse’s cavalry unit during what is called the Great Syrian Revolt.

Twixt Hell and Allah covers the entire length of Waterhouse’s service in the Foreign Legion starting with his enlistment in France, cavalry training in Sousse, Tunisia with the 4th Squadron of the 1st Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiment (1er Régiment Étranger de Cavalerie / 1er REC) and subsequent combat with that unit in Syria.  In Syria Waterhouse is involved in several fierce actions against various rebel forces (mainly Druse) and was eventually wounded.  It took months for him to return to Tunisia and finally be honorably released from the Legion as combat ineffective.  The narrative include many tidbits and anecdotes one would expect from a Foreign Legion memoir.  There are scenes of harsh living in an inhospitable land, strict discipline from somewhat deranged cadre and plenty accounts of painting the local cafes red.  There is also a long parade of interesting legionnaires introduced by the author who recounts their interesting backgrounds, their reasons for joining the Legion and in many cases how they came to their sad demise.

LegionSueida

Five Sous a Day was published two years later and covers much of the same time period as that in his previous book but excludes accounts of the Syrian fighting.  Waterhouse pitches this book as a precautionary tale written primarily to warn other impressionable young men to avoid joining the Foreign Legion at all costs.  It is very similar to the first book by the inclusion of many side stories and thumbnail sketches of interesting legionnaires.  Most of the book is spent on the time after he was grievously wounded and the utter incompetence of the French military and medical system he encounters along the way from Syria to Sousse.  It took him months to eventually be found medically unfit to continue his service in the Foreign Legion and he was honorably discharged with a meager pension.  His discharge he believes was providentially achieved when he bumped into a former officer (now diplomat) from his time in India who apparently pulled strings with the French high brass.  The last chapters of the book recount his attempts to carry on a normal life back in England as a destitute, wounded veteran of two armies.  He eventually capitalizes on his former service in the Legion when he is hired to promote the theater presentations of the 1926 movie Beau Geste.  His gig was to don a Legion uniform and tell tall tales of harsh discipline and savage desert fighting to stir up the audiences before the movie began.

Druse

Both books are written in a light and easy to follow manner and throughout each Waterhouse provides many unique insights into the publicity-shunning Foreign Legion as it existed between the wars.  As a former British NCO who served in India and in France during WWI the author has a keen eye for drawing comparisons of the French military to that of the (much more humane) British forces.  He is very critical of the inept, and bureaucratic French way of managing and caring for their soldier’s welfare and particularly for their wounded.  Although he had opportunity and justified indignation to want to desert the Legion he never considered this an option fitting for a former British soldier.

The only issues I had with Waterhouse’s memoirs is that both appear to have been highly modified, most likely by a literary agent, to include some of the worst attempts to romanticize what would most likely have been a straight forward military memoir.  Although Waterhouse is the eye-witness narrator for many of these sensational accounts it is doubtful that many actually happened at all.  There are a host of legionnaires that appear in each book that have very elaborate backgrounds of dubious credibility.  Such as the Chicago criminal who joins the Legion still retaining a suitcase of loot and two automatic pistols.  There is the French maiden found working at an Arab cafe who is helped to make her escape while disguised as a Legionnaire (aided of course by Waterhouse and a Russian legionnaire).  There are several half-dead lost souls Waterhouse comes across who are serving in the penal companies or the Bat’ d’Af’ (where French prisoners serve their military obligations).  There are also lurid descriptions of Tuareg tortures, a fantastical story of the origins of the Druze (children of Baal!), the Foreign Legion Air Force that never got off the ground and the incredible power of English tea to bribe obstinate corporals and medical staff (though this one might be true).  In Five Sous a Day Waterhouse takes pains to point out that the things described in his first book REALLY DID happen and that he, in fact, had to leave out the more sensational stories because nobody would believe them.  I just wonder how much stuff the editors may have removed from the original draft in order to fit in the romantic fluff.

These books are probably not entirely accurate accounts of life and war in the Foreign Legion but nonetheless are highly entertaining.  One can easily get absorbed in both of these books without fretting too much about the spicy bits or some military discrepancies.  In fact, Waterhouse wrote three fictional tales of the Foreign Legion prior to publishing Five Sous a Day.  These include Cafard, Bloodspots in the Sand, and Oasis.  Waterhouse certainly had an imagination that ran amok in his two non-fiction works but I can’t say this is any reason to not read these two wonderful books.

NOTE:  These books are increasingly hard to come by in the book market.  Those living in the U.K. would have the best chance to score a copy while others who are interested will likely find copies at Abe Books.

 

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Legion Pulp: The Last Laugh

ThelastlaughThis month’s Foreign Legion pulp story comes from the remarkable Short Stories Magazine–one of the big four of general fiction pulp alongside Argosy, Adventure and Blue Book.  This story appeared in the 10 June 1936 issue and was penned by Bob Du Soe who was an occasional contributor to the Foreign Legion genre.  It involves some seriously deep undercover work by American detective Jim Ryder who is on the trail of a criminal who’s last traces have led Ryder to the Foreign Legion.

The Last Laugh

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