The Masters of No-Man’s Land


Here is a nice poem about the Foreign Legion that appeared in Trench Tales by Clarence Lumpkin Jordan.  Trench Tales was published in 1919 and has several poems that could be about fighter’s of the Legion–but I liked this one the best.   I loaded a copy of Trench Tales after the poem but it can also be found on Hathi Trust or Google Books.


I am one of the Foreign Legion—been at it the whole damned time,
Been slammed in each hottest region and wallowed in blood and in slime,
I’ve fought for the sheer love of fighting and killed with a triumphant yell;
But now I am done with my fighting, and the Doc says I’ll never get well.

You’ll say we are cut•throats and villains, we men of the Legion, all right:
You’ll say we are reckless and foolish—but damn it, you know we can fight!
You throw us the scum of your gutter, the hopeless, the broken: —and then
We give them the love of the Legion, and, –God!—how it turns them to men.

I joined with a Russian Anarchist; the son of a bankrupted peer;
A Frenchman whose love had renounced him; a negro with only one ear;
A preacher whose parish had balled him; a Finn; a Turk, and a Kite—
And I was a lad in his twenties, just longing for romance and fight.

They hailed us as “Blues” when we got there, —at Sidi-bel-Abbes, Algiers.
We worked and we fought and we quarreled; we wept and we laughed through our tears;
We longed for a good honest battle, with our banners and men pouring forth—
Then the Germans went smashing on Belgium, and we hurried like mad for the North!

We turned them out there in the open, we beat them like rats to their holes:
We hit them right out of their trenches and burrowed beneath them like moles:
We met them and shattered their charges: we licked them with gun and grenade!
Wherever the fighting was honest,—the Legion was there undismayed!

My friends paid the red toll of battle. —each died with his face to the foe;
The Russian and Frenchman fell charging; the rest were with me in the snow
On the night when we seven got cut off (O God, I remember it well),
Out there in a big frozen shell-hole in the midst of that living hell!

You know what it’s like in the Winter when the drear cold stabs to the bone,
And you shiver out there in the trenches,—your fighting blood shriveled and gone,
And the Boches keep shooting and shelling, and many a man curses his God;
But there’s never a whine from the Legion,—those men that you know with a nod.

The Finn had a broken machine gun and only a couple of strips;
The Turk and the Preacher were loaded with grenades that hung from their hips;
The rest of us each had a rifle, and somebody struck up a tune,—
The famous song of the Legion, —as the Boches came over the dune.

Surrender? Why, man, we were happy! We shot and we sang with a will!
The cold and the snow were forgotten as those thick-headed pigs climbed the hill!
At our first shots the leading line melted; our Hotchkiss sent fear to the core;
So we laughed at their clumsy retreating and begged them to send us some more!

But, damn them! they won’t fight in the open! They crawled in their holes and with shells
They leveled the ground all around us, and we cheered at their shots with our yells!
Then the smoke cleared up just a little,—the Finn and the Preacher lay dead
And the Kite was a-kicking and squirming, with only the half of a head!

And the Boches came pouring out at us (we hadn’t a Hotchkiss this time)
So we met them with rifles and bayonets, sunk up to our knees in the slime.
We whites went down in an instant with hardly the time for a cheer,
But the space was soon cleared around us by the negro with only one ear.

His face was all bloody and horrid; he was swinging his gun like a flail,
And he grinned in a terrible manner at the sight of the Boche turning pale.
Then I found a Hun automatic and fired at the beasts from the ground
As they rushed us again with their bayonets – and the one-eared black went down.

Then a cheer like the bursting of thunder! And pouring in over the cone,
Were our boys who had finally found us! The Legion had come for its own!
And the Boches turned tail, helter-skelter, as they do when the Legion’s at hand,
For they may be the men with no country, but they’re Masters of No Man’s Land!

The Doc says I’m done with my fighting; he doubts if I’ll weather the storm,
But I’m happy to know as I lie here that I’ve once worn that plain uniform:
That I’ve fought and I’ve bled for the Legion – that my name lives as one of that band –
The men who haven’t a country,—the Masters of No Man’s Land!

Trench Tales

About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
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