To close out 2018 here is an article from the British “true-life” adventure publication The Wide World Magazine. I only have the seven pages of the article so I’m not sure what date this issue was but my best guess is sometime from 1953-1955. The author joined the Foreign Legion in February 1952 and the decided to “leave” that September while in en-route to Indochina. So Jones did not spend much time in the Legion–perhaps 7 months, yet he provides a richly detailed account of that time as well as his escape. He relates yet another grim story of abuse and the blind bureaucratic ineptness of the Legion at this time; poor equipment and uniforms, filthy quarters, lack of proper hygiene, inadequate food, arbitrary rules and distant, “hand-it-all-off-to-the (German) NCOs” type of leadership of the French officers. Speaking German and Spanish and with an adventurous spirit, Jones had a promising future in the Legion as an NCO but after witnessing the brutal way that recaptured deserters were treated he vowed to desert himself. He decided to make his break during his journey to Indochina hoping the transport ship would berth at a friendly port. As luck would have it there was a UK Frigate also at Columbo, Sri Lanka and Jones made good on his decision not to make the Foreign Legion his new career.
Jones’ short account of his short time in the Foreign Legion is very similar to that related by other former members particularly those from the UK, the U.S., Canada, and other Commonwealth countries. These who had prior military experience in their own services noted repeatedly how poorly the Legion recruits are treated and how inept their logistics and basic services are. But, it appears to me that what they are describing is a system that is not unique to the Foreign Legion but is the same pattern of blind, corrupt, and often malicious indifference that the entrenched French government bureaucracy shows to it’s own citizens, colonial subjects and military men. To understand the ineptness of the Foreign Legion one has to understand how extensive the French civil service is–with millions of government clerks and administrators (fonctionnaires) enforcing thousands of petty rules and regulations. These employees have long since stopped caring about the populace they supposedly serve and view their jobs as an inconvenient way obtain a government paycheck and pension. Even today, 1 in 5 workers in France is a government employee and helping them keep their useless sinecures are a multitude of militant labor unions. (For us Americans it would be like the DMV had taken over every level of our government). It is no wonder that in the old Legion the ineptness of French civil service would have spilled over into the military (especially at the logistics and depot levels).
Happy New Year everyone!
Note: The article was provided to me earlier this year (along with many other news clippings, stories and publications) by a loyal follower of this blog. Thanks Eugene.