Hodgepodge for February 2016

Here are some of the interesting items I’ve found this past month.  …concerning the French Foreign Legion of course.

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1. Classic Legion Personalities.  Here is a neat article (in French) that helps identify some of the figures seen in this great photograph.  It originally appeared on this website which also has several other categories of vintage black and white photographs.

2.  My Afternoon with the French Foreign Legion.  This article from the UK Spectator is short but interesting.  Interesting comments below the article too.

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3.  General Christian Piquemal Arrested.  I was not sure about posting this item but it was very discomforting to read what happened to this French General and former commander of the French Foreign Legion.  Pequemal became a Lieutenant in 1962 and joined the Foreign Legion in the next year.  He was a paratrooper in the 2nd Parachute Regiment (2REP) and served in North Africa and New Caledonia.  He eventually became the commander of the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment from 1985 to 1987 and later became the commander of the Foreign Legion 1994 to 1999.  He was recently arrested for participating in a banned rally against the immigration situation in Calais and faces up to a year in prison.

It’s inconceivable to me, as an American, that French authorities can exercise such sweeping dictatorial powers to effectively squash nationalist protests such as this.  I will insert my political opinion here and say —never trust Socialists!  President Holland, using the extended state of emergency powers that was given to his government after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, is now using these powers to keep the right wing elements in their place.  One would think he would stay focused on defeating terrorism and not his political enemies.

4. Foreign Legion 2016.  Here is a gem of a video that shows some English speaking legionnaires fooling around with a video cam and doing some impromptu introductions of the different nationalities one might find in the Legion.  They were all in Mayotte and waiting to proceed on to France after “four months in hell”.  Anyone who was in the military would appreciate the hi-jinks.

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Twixt Hell and Allah – Five Sous a Day by Francis A. Waterhouse

DSC00683Twixt Hell and Allah by Francis A. Waterhouse (Ex-Legionnaire 1484) in collaboration with R. Kenneth Macaulay. Sampson, Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., London 1931. Illustrated with 5 B&W photos. 268 pages.

Five Sous a Day by Francis A. Waterhouse (Ex-Legionnaire 1484).  Sampson, Low, Marston & Co. Ltd., London 1933.  248 pages.

I’ve finished these two books late last year and because they are so similar I felt it necessary to review them together.  Both are memoirs written by Englishman Francis A. Waterhouse describing his 2+ years in the French Foreign Legion (from June 1924 to late 1926).  Waterhouse’s works are contemporary to books written by the American Legionnaire Bennett Doty and his English partner in their ill-fated attempt at desertion, John Harvey.  These two both served in the 5th BN of the 4th Foreign Legion Regiment (V/4REI) often alongside Waterhouse’s cavalry unit during what is called the Great Syrian Revolt.

Twixt Hell and Allah covers the entire length of Waterhouse’s service in the Foreign Legion starting with his enlistment in France, cavalry training in Sousse, Tunisia with the 4th Squadron of the 1st Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiment (1er Régiment Étranger de Cavalerie / 1er REC) and subsequent combat with that unit in Syria.  In Syria Waterhouse is involved in several fierce actions against various rebel forces (mainly Druse) and was eventually wounded.  It took months for him to return to Tunisia and finally be honorably released from the Legion as combat ineffective.  The narrative include many tidbits and anecdotes one would expect from a Foreign Legion memoir.  There are scenes of harsh living in an inhospitable land, strict discipline from somewhat deranged cadre and plenty accounts of painting the local cafes red.  There is also a long parade of interesting legionnaires introduced by the author who recounts their interesting backgrounds, their reasons for joining the Legion and in many cases how they came to their sad demise.

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Five Sous a Day was published two years later and covers much of the same time period as that in his previous book but excludes accounts of the Syrian fighting.  Waterhouse pitches this book as a precautionary tale written primarily to warn other impressionable young men to avoid joining the Foreign Legion at all costs.  It is very similar to the first book by the inclusion of many side stories and thumbnail sketches of interesting legionnaires.  Most of the book is spent on the time after he was grievously wounded and the utter incompetence of the French military and medical system he encounters along the way from Syria to Sousse.  It took him months to eventually be found medically unfit to continue his service in the Foreign Legion and he was honorably discharged with a meager pension.  His discharge he believes was providentially achieved when he bumped into a former officer (now diplomat) from his time in India who apparently pulled strings with the French high brass.  The last chapters of the book recount his attempts to carry on a normal life back in England as a destitute, wounded veteran of two armies.  He eventually capitalizes on his former service in the Legion when he is hired to promote the theater presentations of the 1926 movie Beau Geste.  His gig was to don a Legion uniform and tell tall tales of harsh discipline and savage desert fighting to stir up the audiences before the movie began.

Druse

Both books are written in a light and easy to follow manner and throughout each Waterhouse provides many unique insights into the publicity-shunning Foreign Legion as it existed between the wars.  As a former British NCO who served in India and in France during WWI the author has a keen eye for drawing comparisons of the French military to that of the (much more humane) British forces.  He is very critical of the inept, and bureaucratic French way of managing and caring for their soldier’s welfare and particularly for their wounded.  Although he had opportunity and justified indignation to want to desert the Legion he never considered this an option fitting for a former British soldier.

The only issues I had with Waterhouse’s memoirs is that both appear to have been highly modified, most likely by a literary agent, to include some of the worst attempts to romanticize what would most likely have been a straight forward military memoir.  Although Waterhouse is the eye-witness narrator for many of these sensational accounts it is doubtful that many actually happened at all.  There are a host of legionnaires that appear in each book that have very elaborate backgrounds of dubious credibility.  Such as the Chicago criminal who joins the Legion still retaining a suitcase of loot and two automatic pistols.  There is the French maiden found working at an Arab cafe who is helped to make her escape while disguised as a Legionnaire (aided of course by Waterhouse and a Russian legionnaire).  There are several half-dead lost souls Waterhouse comes across who are serving in the penal companies or the Bat’ d’Af’ (where French prisoners serve their military obligations).  There are also lurid descriptions of Tuareg tortures, a fantastical story of the origins of the Druze (children of Baal!), the Foreign Legion Air Force that never got off the ground and the incredible power of English tea to bribe obstinate corporals and medical staff (though this one might be true).  In Five Sous a Day Waterhouse takes pains to point out that the things described in his first book REALLY DID happen and that he, in fact, had to leave out the more sensational stories because nobody would believe them.  I just wonder how much stuff the editors may have removed from the original draft in order to fit in the romantic fluff.

These books are probably not entirely accurate accounts of life and war in the Foreign Legion but nonetheless are highly entertaining.  One can easily get absorbed in both of these books without fretting too much about the spicy bits or some military discrepancies.  In fact, Waterhouse wrote three fictional tales of the Foreign Legion prior to publishing Five Sous a Day.  These include Cafard, Bloodspots in the Sand, and Oasis.  Waterhouse certainly had an imagination that ran amok in his two non-fiction works but I can’t say this is any reason to not read these two wonderful books.

NOTE:  These books are increasingly hard to come by in the book market.  Those living in the U.K. would have the best chance to score a copy while others who are interested will likely find copies at Abe Books.

 

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Legion Pulp: The Last Laugh

ThelastlaughThis month’s Foreign Legion pulp story comes from the remarkable Short Stories Magazine–one of the big four of general fiction pulp alongside Argosy, Adventure and Blue Book.  This story appeared in the 10 June 1936 issue and was penned by Bob Du Soe who was an occasional contributor to the Foreign Legion genre.  It involves some seriously deep undercover work by American detective Jim Ryder who is on the trail of a criminal who’s last traces have led Ryder to the Foreign Legion.

The Last Laugh

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Hodgepodge for January 2016

Sorry for the lack of posts this month.  I’ve been busy with work and other projects and I often get home in a vegetative state of mind, not wanting to do much of anything else but watch politics on TV before bed.  It must be S.A.D. / Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Anyway, here are some tidbits of stuff I found on the Foreign Legion this past month…

1. Avalanche Kills Six Foreign Legion Soldiers.  Horrible news from Savoie, France as five Legionnaires from the 2nd Engineer Regiment (2REG) were tragically killed in an avalanche while conducting training on Monday the 18th.   A sixth Legionnaire passed away from his injuries on the 25th.  A memorial for the fallen was held last week.  Rest in Peace.

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heteny-2. Edmonde Charles-Roux.  A great Frenchwoman and close friend of the Foreign Legion passed away on 21 January.  Charles-Roux, at age 19, served as a nurse for a Foreign Legion ambulance unit when the Second World War broke out.  Wounded in action she was made an honorary corporal of the Foreign Legion.  In 1944 she joined the Free French forces as head of military social work and was with the First Army and her beloved Legion units throughout the savage winter fighting in Alsace-Lorraine and Germany.  She was wounded a second time in the last part of the war and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and made a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur.  She would later become a writer and journalist covering art, fashion and culture, creating the fashion magazine “Elle”.  She would often remind people that she was “a Foreign Legion corporal twice wounded under fire”.  The Foreign Legion provided and honor guard for her memorial service.

5064057763.  Planet Figure.  This is a great forum for those hobbyists dedicated to creating beautiful military, historical and fantasy figurines.  I decided to run some searches there and found some really awesome figures.  I borrowed some images from there but I must recommend you thoroughly check out the whole forum as there are hundreds of very accurately painted military figures.

4. Unfeasibly Casbah.  Here is a new building from Unfeasibly Miniatures.  I really like the style and the odd way the buildings connect together.  A couple more building sets of this type and you can construct a good replica of any Arab souk / kasbah.  These walled in older portions of North African cities are generally unnavigable warrens of narrow streets, walkways, alleys and passages.  The place were Legionnaires go when they are told not to, searching for those small cafes where the dancing girls can be found.  A great addition to their increasingly large line of Legion and Tuareg miniatures. 

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5.  Legion Patria Nostra Photo Gallery.  Here is another set of photographs by Eduard Elias.  These pictures capture Foreign Legionnaires in various activities in garrison, in training, during various ceremonies as well as during their off time.  I hate to say this but these guys look very much like young soldiers in most other armies.  Not too many bearded, bemedalled, grizzled old anciens in these pictures.

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Legion Pulp: Blood Debt of the Legion

Blood DebtThis exciting pulp story comes from the October 1938 issue Action Stories.  It includes a Bedouin attack on a small mud fort in the Sahara.  The fort is commanded by a sadistic adjutant who rules over his small platoon with naked brutality and because of this the fort is doomed to fall…but for the actions of Legionnaire Clay and the Foreign Legion Air Force (yep, you read that right).

Blood Debt of the Legion

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Hodgepodge for December 2015

Happy New Year to everyone.  I’ve sufficiently recovered from last night’s overindulgence  to be able to put together this short post to start off the new year.

Ortiz_U.S.Marine1. The Man and the Legend.  This article is a well done piece on Peter Ortiz; former Foreign Legionnaire, U.S. Marine and OSS operative.  Ortiz was awarded two Navy Crosses, second only to the Medal of Honor ,for his service in WWII.  The second award was made upon his release from a German P.O.W. camp at the end of the war.  His awesome reply when asked why he would subject himself to the harsh discipline of the Foreign Legion…“Yes, it’s as hard as anything in the world, I suppose, but I don’t regret going for it. I wanted to live a man’s life. What should I have been doing if I had stayed in Paris? Cocktail parties, nightclubs?”

2. 82nd Airborne Division Trains with Foreign Legion.  Back in 2014, 120 Paratroopers from various units of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division landed in Corsica to continue to foster their airborne relationships with the French 2e Regiment Etranger Parachutiste (2REP).  The Amarican Paratroopers, nicknamed “Task Force Corsica”, will conducedt various training missions throughout the island and participated in basic French airborne training in order to better familiarize themselves with French weapons and equipment.  Pictures of this training can be found here as well as on Flikr.

82nd ABN Corsica3. Reading Material.  Here are a couple of good websites for those inclined to do their reading on the internet.  The first is a collection of anecdotes, forum posts and letters posted by Voltigeur.  The second is an index to several Reddit threads that mostly have great information shared by current and former legionnaires and others who have attempted to join the Legion.

4. Cthulhu, the Foreign Legion and Role Playing Games.  This is an interesting thread posted on a forum devoted to role playing the H. P. Lovecraft “mythos”.  The basic discussion centers on using the French Foreign Legion as a plot device in creating role playing game scenarios and adventures.  It references a Lovecraft gaming fanzine called The Whisperer which apparently has two articles that provide readers with some back ground to the Legion as well as tips and rules on integrating the Legion into a game.  I found it interesting because I too believe the Legion’s history, the far flung French outposts in the Sahara and the eclectic mix of legionnaires with unknown backgrounds is perfect soil for good fiction.  Even good horror fiction.

5.  Photo Album: The Foreign Legion in French Guiana.  This gallery, entitled Operation Harpie 2015, was posted to imgur a couple of weeks ago.  Once you get past the bug pictures there are several photographs that give a very close “Hero Cam” experience of Foreign Legion operations in South America.

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The Footprints of Beau Geste

img124About a month ago I purchased a bound volume of The Mentor magazine.  This large and heavy book (Volume 16) included all twelve monthly issues from February 1928 to January of 1929.  It was a good price on eBay and also had a nice color cover and story featuring the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (which was why I bought it).  Once the mail arrived and I had the book in my greedy hands I sat down and randomly opened it up to page 24 of the March issue and discovered, to my good fortune, a short article on the Sahara Desert entitled “In the Footprints of Beau Geste and Beau Sabreur”.  This title is in reference to the two movies based the P. C. Wren novels of the same name which were released in 1926 and 1928 respectively.

DSC00575The pictures and some of the text features the author’s visit with a Captain Mars, a short stout officer who seems to be in charge of a tiny garrison of native Seneglese at El Oued Souf.  The author, Otto C. Gilmore, was a photographer as well as cinematographer who was credited with at least one movie from 1915 and also patented a two color system for adding color to movies.  (No wonder his reference point throughout this article were the two Geste movies.)

It was impossible to scan these pages because of the large size and tight binding of the volume so I took some pictures instead.  The whole article can be read in the document below…

Footprints of Beau Geste

First picture is unrelated…a hi-res scan of a period post card depicting legionnaires in Morocco.

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Merry Christmas / Joyeux Noël

Merry Christmas to all and may you have a Happy New Year!

Joyeux Noël

I’m sorry for having nothing to post today but holiday well wishes….I’ve just transitioned from a week-long sinus based cold to some horrible form of extraterrestrial / bio-warfare type of stomach flu last night.  My energy cells are depleted but I will get back to posting again next week.

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Legion Pulp: Sons of the Sword

SonsoftheSword

This story is from Georges Surdez again.  An early story of his that appeared in the September 1st, 1928 issue of Adventure.  It does not center on the Foreign Legion but instead on another of France’s indigenous colonial forces known as the Mokhazenis.  This name is derived from the name of the various governing bodies that ruled in Morocco over several centuries known as the makhzen.  This armed force served the king of Morocco and eventually came under the organization and control of France.  They were irregular light cavalry for the most part.

Sons of the Sword

I had to take the easy way out again on this month’s pulp story.  Although I have this issue of Adventure on my scan pile it was recently scanned by someone else.  So hats off and merci beaucoup to the original scanner.

 

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Hodgepodge for November 2015

I could have sworn there were 31 days in November.  Oh well, here are some random internet finds related to the Foreign Legion.

1. Thibaut Corday of the French Foreign Legion Action Figure.  Joe Customs is a website devoted to the plastic action figure.  It seems to cover collecting, customizing and scratch building action figures of all genres.  On their forum pages there is a thread featuring a Thibaut Corday figure.  Corday is a fictional character created by H. Beford-Jones that appeared exclusively for Argosy.  He is the crusty Legion veteran who spins tall tales of his far flung adventures.  Altus Press has the entire 21 story collection.

Corday2.  Travel Documents Required for Joining the French Foreign Legion.  Here is an interesting checklist for those traveling to France to join the Legion.  It popped up online as part of a South African travel company called Capago.

Checklist Short Stay-ForeignLegion

3.  Humor.  We all need a laugh every so often so check out these oddities.

An Imgur gallery praising the Foreign Legion as the antidote to ISIS

A Havoc Journal article addressed to all the Special Ops wannabes with some tips on joining the Foreign Legion

An Alex Jones interview with Dr. Steve Pieczenik who seems to have everything in the Middle East all figured out.

4. The Musical Legion.  One would be surprised to know how musically oriented the Legion is.  Ever since their founding in the early 1800’s they Foreign Legion has had a band of some sort as well as being notorious for their marching songs which are essential for new Legionnaires to learn completely and to be able to sing as loudly and perfectly as possible.  The Foreign Legion band has been rated one of the best military bands in the world and performs in many shows and competitions.  When the Foreign Legion was still stationed in North Africa their Corps and Regimental bands provided weekly shows for locals at Sidi Bel Abbes and Saida, Algeria.  Here are a just a couple of videos of the modern Legion band in action.

1RE Legion Band Morocco

 

 

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