Garde à Vous! (On Guard) by J. D. Newsom

Garde à Vous is a short novel of 319 pages written by J. D. Newsom and published in 1928 by the A. L. Burt Company.  On the spine it says “They come hard-boiled in the Legion”.  I finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago.  (The copy that I have is in remarkable shape.  It also has a hand written name written in the front and back covers–“Elsie Worthen, 1935).  The storyline is like many of the other short stories about the Legion from J. D. Newsom.  This one is just a little longer.  It is one of the few books written by this author who otherwise was a prolific writer of pulp short stories for Argosy and Adventure Magazines.  Newsom wrote primarily about the Foreign Legion and other full length books include Drums of the Legion, The Legionnaire, Fools of the Legion, A London Legionaire and A Cockney of the Legion).  An interesting note about Mr. Newsom (John Dimmock Newsom to be exact) is that he eventually became the director of the Federal Writers’ Project.  This was a New Deal effort to keep writers employed during the latter years of the Great Depression and lasted from 1935-1943.  He resigned this post in 1941 to join the Army during the war.

This was a quick read–it could have been a serialized story for one of the pulps.  I actually got a bit confused between this book and P. C. Wren’s book, The Wages of Virtue, which I had also started reading at the same time.  Both novels feature an American Legionnaire, teamed up with an Cockney pugilist, who can’t seem to stop putting the moves on a town cafe gal.  In this case it is George Bradley and Charley Coates (a London jockey) who wind up in the Legion after their funds run out in Paris.  Both take to the Legion well enough but soon run afoul of Julien Lormier, a brute of a fellow Legionnaire who is driven to utter madness by his hatred of Bradley (who handily beats Lormier down in a bar fight–over the girl of course).  Before things get too bad their company is sent to battle against a rebellious tribe where, after a gallant but costly charge by the Legion, Lormier claims the deeds performed by an unconscious Bradley and gets promoted to Sergeant by the doltish Colonel DeGonesse (known as The Butcher for the high casualties his forces sustain when he is in command).  As a sergeant, Lormier makes life hell for Bradley and Coates but he is routinely censured by the straight-shooting Lieutenant Fachamin.  Eventually the sins of Lormier and his frustrations with the commander catch up to him and he deserts to the rebelling tribesmen who eventually storm the Legionnaires fort.  The Legion holds out to the last handful of men in a remaining blockhouse until Coates comes back with the relief column.  Colonel DeGonesse redeems himself (in a way) at the head of the attack on the besieging tribesmen.  Also there is a girl and a corrupt businessman involved in the whole mess. This is not a seriously deep novel about the Legion in anyway–just an action packed adventure story a little bit on the Tall Tale side.

I noticed a common thread in many of these Legion pulp stories is that of the Legion fighting to the last remaining handful of men.  I seems to be a “design element” of just about every other pulp Legion story.  In this books Bradley and Coates fight to be one of the last remaining-still standing Legionnaires twice.  I know it has happened a couple of times in the history of the Legion but I just found it odd to see this plot device used so often.  I’m keeping a list of common Legion themes and will summarize these in a later post.  Also, if you come across an affordable copy of this book I would recommend buying it.  (The prices I noticed on line seem to be getting higher.)

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About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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