Article: March or Die

This article about the Foreign Legion is from the Los Angeles Times, 31 May, 1914.  The Special Foreign Correspondent for the LA Times apparently paid a visit to Sidi Bel Abbes and observed the Foreign Legion in garrison and then dispatched the standard puff piece about the Foreign Legion that fills up news print and inevitably perpetuates certain myths and aspects associated with this fighting corps.  It talks about the Cafard, leaving soldiers to die in the desert when they cannot keep up with the marching column, and also some discussion about the Legion’s historical fighting record.  However, what struck me as most poignant was his visit to the Legion cemetery.  I think this part captures the lonely and solitary existence of the Foreign Legionnaire at this time.  The final four paragraphs of this article are very touching.  They are a reminder that the Foreign Legion was a refuge for many undesirable and forlorn men from all over Europe (and the world for that matter).  Men who turned their backs on failed marriages or failed families or fled to the Legion to avoid debtors prison or disgrace and dishonor or left their homelands one step ahead of the secret police and various ethnic cleansers.  Lonely men with nothing going for them.  Many volunteers at this period were destitute.  There was nothing in their lives going for them but the Legion was there to provide three daily meals and a roof over their head.  If they were the least bit healthy or had some military training they were allowed to became Legionnaires.  But once you joined you had to commit to a hard, brutal and monastic existence and many had to pay the ultimate price of death.  In 1914 death often came by disease–influenza, typhoid, cholera, and tuberculosis.  There were also many other ways to die in North Africa for Legionnaires: alcoholism, vipers, heat stroke, murder, suicides, firing squad and of course combat with the restless natives.  Graves of these forgotten men were left in obscure places in many countries around the world and nobody really cared the least about their passing save their own comrades in arms.  (Probably why France maintained this force for so long.)  Some eventually found their final resting place in this cemetery under a dilapidated cross that most likely did not even bear the soldier’s true name.   The Legion was for many of these men the only accepting home they ever knew.  Several months after this article was published the Legionnaires observed by this correspondent would come face to face with a new type of hell in the trenches.  Almost all of them (the Africaine des anciens combattants) would perish over the next four years.

p-p-l                                priez pour lui (pray for him)

Los Angeles Times Article_March or Die_May 1914

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About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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