A Soldier of the Legion: John F. Elkington

This short article comes from The Literary Digest of 06 January 1917 and concerns the military career of LTC John F. Elkington.  It is one classic (and true) example of the Foreign Legion’s magnetic pull that attracts individuals seeking some sort of redemption in their lives.

Elkington was born in the West Indies in 1866.  His father was in the British military and his family had a long history of military services.  It was natural for John F. to pursue that career and so he joined his father’s regiment (The Royal Warwickshires) in 1886.  By 1891, at the age of 25 he was an experienced senior Lieutenant and then a Captain the year later.  He served in Nigeria, South Africa during the Boer War, and in India.  He was a light Colonel with the British Warwickshire Regiment when the Great War started but after two months of savage and chaotic fighting while leading his Brigade he found himself court marshaled and cashiered from the army (14 September 1914).  Despondent but nonetheless determined to fight in this war he joined the French Foreign Legion as a private at the age of 48.  Three weeks later he was at the Front.  He participated in several battles with the Legion throughout 1915 and during the fighting at the famous Battle of Champaigne, on 28 September, he was wounded severely in the legs by German machine gun fire and was barely alive by the time he was treated at the aid station thirteen hours later.  It took ten months of recovery but he was not able to return to combat and was released from service in the Legion.  He retired back to England to be with his family.  In September of 1916 he received notice to present himself to the King for reinstatement of his former rank in the British Army and for presentation of the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for meritorious or distinguished service in combat while serving in the Foreign Legion.  Apparently the records of the incident that occurred two years previously which resulted in Elkington’s court marshal were reviewed and the charges were dismissed.  The following article gives a wonderful rundown of this famous Legionnaire and hardcore fighting man.  There is also a website about the Elkington family that has page on John here>> link. The Literaty Digest article was found on Unz.org and a version of this story appeared in the book entitled “Stories from the Trenches” (it’s the first story).

Elkington of the Legion

About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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