WWI Photographs of the Foreign Legion

I was browsing the digital images of World War I that are found in the online collection known as the Albums Valois and discovered several photographs depicting the Foreign Legion.  These photo albums (according to their website which I paraphrase below) was created by the French Army Photo Section (SPA), an organization created in 1915 by the Ministry of War, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Instruction.  During the war the French government dispatched photographers, called “operators,” on the various Western fronts, then from the Orient, with the aim of taking official historical images of the conflict.  These were meticulously sorted into categories such as destruction & ruins, ceremonies, aviation, hospitals, etc.  Each plate is precisely identified with the place-name, date and short description.  Currently there are about 50,000 photographs available on-line and includes albums from the departments of Aisne, Ardennes, Belgium, Marne, Meurthe et Moselle, Meuse, Moselle, North, Oise, Paris (including the entrenched camp), the Pas Calais, Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin, Seine et Marne, Territoire de Belfort, and the Vosges.  These are accessible via L’Argonnaute. Throughout the year, the additional online releases will follow one another and eventually a set of 110,000 photographs will be available online.

The pictures below are from my searches for obvious key words such as “Légion Etrangère” and other key words such as “Maroc” to pull up photographs of the Moroccan Division to which the Foreign Legion Marching Regiment (RMLE) was assigned to for the latter half of the war. 

Zinovy Peshkov.  These pictures of Peshkov (aka, Peshkoff) simply showed up in one of the Paris albums that I was browsing.  Peshkov of course was the adopted son of the famous Russian author Maxim Gorky.  He volunteered to fight for France and enlisted into the 1st Marching Battalion of the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment in 1914.  In May of 1915, as a corporal leading a squad at Arras he was seriously wounded in the arm by a bullet and would lose his right arm to infection.   In these photographs you can clearly see the collar insignia indicating that of an interpreter–he spoke Russian, French, English, Italian and German.  These photos would have been taken after he left the Legion due to his grievous wound but later rejoined the military in June of 1916 with the rank of “interpreter of third class” (lieutenant) and assigned to the 20th Staff Section in Paris.  He was then sent to speak in the United States on behalf of France in an effort to convince America to enter the war.  He would continue to serve in the French military and became famous as a Foreign Legion officer (1921-1926 and again from 1937-1940) who fought in the Rifs in Morocco and wrote a book about his experiences in that conflict entitled The Bugle Calls.

In Cantonment.  The French, like most of the allies, rotated their troops from the front lines on a regular basis for rest, refitting and reinforcing and these pictures show the RMLE in the rear areas near Froissy and Plessier-de-Roye in the Oise department north of Paris.  The group shots are of legionnaires of various nationalities and include Americans, Luxembourgers, Spanish, South Americans, Romanians, and Swiss.  Mixed among the Foreign Legion troops are many (Algerian & Tunisian) troops from the various North African regiments and battalions that also comprised the 1st Moroccan Division.  The two officers are Colonel Cot, the CO of the RMLE at the time and General Degoutte the CO of the Division Marocaine.

Moroccan Division Ceremony. These pictures show a mix of Foreign Legionnaires, Tirailleurs, Zouaves and others of this highly decorated unit during some type of parade held on 05 September 1916.  The Legion troops are recognized by their helmets with the infantry badge (the flaming grenade).  The last picture is a parade in Paris on Bastille Day, 1917.

Miscellaneous.  These pictures show some Foreign Legion troops marching toward the front lines, boarding a train, with a machine gun packing mule, and some impromptu gambling.

Hopefully I can find some more interesting pictures from this resource and I will be looking for more updates to the albums over the months.

About Jack Wagner

Retired Army.
This entry was posted in Photographs, World War One. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to WWI Photographs of the Foreign Legion

  1. Alez Stankanov says:

    Stumbled on a hadgepoge of Lègion pictures at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/298996862746197847/


  2. Adrian Rosenlund says:

    Hi. Great site. It’s not really apparent because of the black and white photos, but did legionnaires have white kepis during WW1? By the look of things, they seem to have been issued standard French army gear. It even looks as though their Adrian helmets have the standard infantry badge(?).


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