Recollections of a Life of Adventure by William Stamer


I found another wonderful item at Hathi Trust Digital Library–a book published in 1866 written by an English adventurer named William Stamer.   There are two chapters that describe the author’s enlistment in the French Foreign Legion that I thought would be interesting (and amusing) enough to post here.

Stamer was quite a character.  He has a Mark Twain sense of humor and writes a bit self-deprecatingly–as a merry innocent baffled by the stupidity that surrounds him where ever he goes.  In narrating his wanderings, Stamer uses the name Mark Tapley Jr. (a Dickens character).  He had a strict upbringing in England with plenty of corporal punishment but also plenty of education to include French and German between his rebellious sessions.  Eventually he takes to his own and sails to Boston where he is employed as a sailor on a whaler plying the waters of the West Indies.   He has plenty of adventures on the ship but this eventually sours and he returns to England where he seeks a reinstatement of his former commission as an officer in a British regiment to fight in the Crimean War.

Dismayed by failing to get his desired commission due to red tape he heads to France to see if he can join a French regiment fighting the same war.   Assuming that any fighting force in their right mind would take him with no questions, he makes an appointment with a French general and promptly asks to enlist in the Chasseurs D’Afrique.  The flabbergasted French officer, who thought Stamer was an officer of rank paying a gentlemanly visit, directs him to enlist in the only regiment that will accept foreigners–the Foreign Legion but also warns him that he would be joining a “legion of devils” and it would be difficult to get out of that corps.

Making his way to Marseilles, Stamer/Tapley finds the local military command and promptly joins the Foreign Legion’s 2nd Regiment.  What is interesting about his account is how similar it all sounds to memoirs written 100 years later about serving in the Foreign Legion: the attempt by the general to talk him out of joining; the incredulity of his fellow legionnaires as to why a man of means would join their scurvy outfit; the first days spent with other shady characters of various nationalities in the depot; buying drinks for his “new friends”; the arrival to the Regiment and discovering what a bunch of real scallywags his comrades are; hiring a more destitute legionnaire to keep his kit shiny and do his daily chores; and the realization that the next c0uple of years will be really, really bad.

In Samer’s case he doesn’t last long in the Legion.  While in Corsica, (where the Legion was stationed at this time) he saw the first batches of wounded legionnaires returning from fighting in the Crimea.  Knowing that the Legion is always in the thick of fighting he may have had second thoughts of going off to fight for France.  He finally gets some leave and finishes his service in the Legion.  At this time soldiers were allowed to pay a substitute to finish their enlistment commitment and this his how Stamer/Tapley leaves the Foreign Legion.  Stamer doesn’t use many dates in his memoir but I’m guessing the time frame for his Legion service was 1855 or 1856.

The entire book is available to read only online at Hathi but I extracted the pertinent chapters of his time in the Foreign Legion into a .pdf below.  I only read up to chapter 6 but if I have time I might finish this book just to see where this odd character winds up.  Also, of note–this is only Volume I of his recollections of a life of adventure.

Recollections of a Life of Adventure

About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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