Happy New Year! There was too much celebration yesterday at my house to get this posted in 2014. So, despite a hangover, I’ve finally assembled the odds and ends I found about the Foreign Legion the past month.
1. The Mysterious Lure of the French Foreign Legion. An interesting article here about Americans who have recently joined the Foreign Legion. It seems 2LT Lawrence J. Franks Jr. of the U.S. Army was looking for more action and challenges and found them in the Legion after deserting from the Army in 2009. The article has two videos as well as several links to associated articles. The video of the Legion’s Mayotte detachment is well done too as is an article about Simon Bennett, a Georgia man who got cut from the Foreign Legion selection process. Another Vice article describes the misadventures of a Canadian in the Foreign Legion. (New York Times article had this picture below of Franks in Mali with has back against the wall).
It should be noted that Franks completed his five year Legion enlistment. He did well and served as part of the Personal Security Team (PST) for French General Laurent Kolodziej the commander of Operation Serval. Franks told a military court that he had been struggling with suicidal urges and that the arduous regimen of the legion was the only way to escape his crippling depression, the Times wrote. “I needed to be wet and cold and hungry, I needed the grueling life I could only find in a place like the legion.” There are plenty of online news stories about Franks and I really like reading the comments at this article. I can really sympathize with Franks. It must have been a let down of sorts to graduate from West Point during the Global War on Terror and then given command of a medical platoon. That would probably have branched him Medical Corps which from my experience those units have some of the worst discipline problems, cry-babies and malcontents than any other unit in the Army. It’s no wonder he chose to abandon it all for the test and challenge of the Foreign Legion.
2. Reddit\Foreign Legion. If you want to read more about the Foreign Legion you can always go to this Reddit page. Be warned however that Reddit is a notorious time sink. You can literally spend a couple days browsing this topic and others.
3. Tom Gunn Foreign Legion Figures. I’ve mentioned these high-end 54mm scale figures before. They seem to keep making more of them and I can’t really keep up with how many they have. The pictures of a couple of new figures are shown below. See them all for yourself here.
4. Foreign Legion Memoirs. I stumbled upon this page written by a Wisconsin college student attending (or who attended) Loyola University of Chicago. It contains some of his reviews of some classic Foreign Legion memoirs to include G. Ward Price’s In Morocco with the Legion, Christian Jennings’ Mouthful of Rocks, Soldier of the Legion by George Mannington and Hell in the Foreign Legion by Ernst Löhndorff among others. It seems to be a student’s chronicle of his research as part of an internship with his Professor who is working on a greater project based on written memoirs of men who served in the Foreign Legion. Of course the focus of college research nowadays is always some left wing flavored contrivance and it appears this project is not different….”The overarching goal of my research is to focus on the stark contrast of the extreme violence done by and undergone by French Foreign Legionnaires, in addition to the everyday mundane activities in the glorious process of building a French Empire overseas.” Whatever. I’m sure the professor’s work will be published one day in some obscure irrelevant academic journal that nobody but other academics will ever read.
Admin Note: During the last two months I really went overboard on purchasing books and Foreign Legion related publications. There were some great finds on ebay and Abe Books and I’ve also mastered making purchases directly from eBay France. I’ve subscribed to Kepi Blanc and also have made some buys from DelCampe. I hope to review these books in 2015. There should be some interesting things happening to the layout as well. So keep following this blog.
Here is another installment of the Grit Gregson: Fighter in the Foreign Legion series that appeared in the UK comic Lion. This one in the 20 Feb 1954 issue. This two pager features the classic snitch character common to military fiction. In this story he is Corporal Snitz. In Beau Geste the snitch was Boldini. Actually, I think every military organization in the world from around 2,000 B.C. to 2014 has had a snitch. When I was in Army basic training, back in 1984, there were two hillbillies from Georgia who thought they had a special connection/relation to the Drill Sergeant from the same state. They were suspected of getting special treatment because of their shared “southern” heritage. Unfortunately for them our drill didn’t tolerate the “good ole boy” racist comments they made about other recruits and the last I saw of the Georgia boys was them starting basic training all over again in another company.
The Legion Sneak
Here’s an interesting article that appeared in the long running U.K. publication The Spectator in August of 1940–the dark days of early World War II. I’m not sure who P.O. Lapis was but he apparently served as an officer of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion (13e DBLE) during the campaign in Norway (9 April and 10 June 1940) and took the time to write about some things he learned about the Foreign Legion. What I took from the article was what I have felt since I started this blog–that the French Foreign Legion is mainly composed of men who are professional combat soldiers, an elite. Always has been and always will be. It is one of the few remaining military organizations that allows for one to be unashamedly looking for a fight. A corps that has not yet been neutered by political correctness and the nonsensical mambo-jumbo of multicultural social engineers and moral relativists. The Foreign Legion remains what it has been for almost 200 years. An organization of tough, well led, hard-bitten, experienced soldiers who are depended upon to do the dirty work of France.
THE SPIRIT OF THE FOREIGN LEGION By P. O. Lapis
Who is left but the Foreign Legion? The U.S. Marines maybe plus the Army Rangers and Special Forces and the host of other special operators we have in our military services here in America. But not for long. The regular U.S. Army is nothing like what it used to be just 15 or 20 years ago. It’s now risk adverse and led by zero-defect officers who are nothing but shameless politically correct sellouts. No smoking or drinking allowed. No tattoos. No dirty magazines, blue jokes or swearing allowed. Pink slips for any seasoned combat veteran who is discovered to have a minor infraction on their record from years previous. Diversity classes and sensitivity training until you can’t stand it any more. Bending the standards to make them fit the gentler sex. The Navy and Air Force went down that road years ago and now are nothing but an equal opportunity, gender neutral, jobs and welfare program. Abroad the Canadian paratroop Regiment was disbanded because of typical north-of-the-border over reaction to the criminal actions of some regimental members. The German Army is beset with the most idiotic accusations of recruit abuse and racism. The UK military is similarly dealing with sexual assault scandals and “torture” accusations that never seem to go away. The Russians?–give me a break; what scumbags they turned out to be in the Ukraine.
We live in challenging times. The threat of Islamic extremism looms large and future combat operations against them seem more and more likely–the French are still in Mali trying to root out islamist terrorists and it’s been almost a year. Yet it seems there are also forces actively seeking sap the morale and fighting spirit of our men and woman serving in the Armed Forces. You hear absolutely nothing of what is happening in Afghanistan right now. If you looked for news about current military operations your browser will fill up with stories of homeless veterans, PTSD, sexual assault in the ranks, gays and gay veterans, problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and never ending stories of our wounded warriors struggling to cope in a seemingly heartless America. There seems to be no warrior spirit left anymore in this increasingly litigious society. One false move will have you behind bars for abusing a prisoner or for hate crimes against a religion. It’s a sorry state of military affairs focused only on the idiotic things and not the pertinent issues we need to be prepared for.
Thank God for the French Foreign Legion and the handful of other organizations out there that still have what it takes to shoot hadji in the face in the morning, tell stories about it in the canteen that evening and quietly scratch another notch on the wall were the informal body count is kept before sleeping soundly.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année.
Here is the last Foreign Legion pulp story for this year. It’s written by Georges Surdez and was featured as a “Foreign Legion Novelette” in the August 1939 issue of Adventure. I’ve not read it yet but will do so tonight and comment on the story later on. It weighs in at a hefty 22MB (34 pages and five graphics). I prefer the black and white appearance of these stories as they are usually easier to read so I tried out a new program called Scan Tailor. There were some “incompetent user” issues with selecting the content of each page and also some problems getting the size of the .tif’s down to a manageable level. You might want to right-click-save-as to your desktop before opening.
Man at Arms
Notes: I think Man at Arms is one of the best of Georges Surdez’s Foreign Legion tales. He really developed and breathed extra life into his characters especially Guarnec–the lumbering Breton and closest friend (and bad influence) of Sergent Fremont. The generic backdrop of conflict in this story is North Africa after WWI with the French pitted against non-specific Berber enemies. It’s an ideal setting for any classic Foreign Legion story and Surdez does not let himself get bogged down with any historical facts and details but at the same time he is accurate in his description of terrain, tactics, weapons, and the Foreign Legion. His approach to writing about the Foreign Legion (and to be fair, so is that of Robert Carse but to a lesser degree J. D. Newsom and Ted Roscoe) is similar to the good writers of westerns. Western fans enjoy the cowboy lingo, accurate descriptions of weapons, horses, Indians and the old West and don’t care too much about exactly what year such and such event occurred. Fans of the Foreign Legion genre enjoy the varied backgrounds and quirks of each character, rich examples about the Legion’s traditions and toughness on and off the battlefield, a bit of French, Arabic and maybe German lingo thrown into the dialog for spice, and the exotic settings of conflict such as the Sahara desert, the Rif Mountains or the jungles of Tonkin. What’s important in both genres is a compelling story and lots of action and Surdez delivers the goods here in large quantities but he also clearly understands the Foreign Legion like no other fiction writer. In fact, it is certain Foreign Legion traditions and their concepts of harsh but fair discipline that play a big role in this tale.
Here is a small collection of news items I’ve collected from the web about the Foreign Legion. These clippings are often very interesting and frequently serve as a launching point for further research into the names and events mentioned. For example the short article on Frederick Farrar’s redeeming his reputation in the First World War is about the former domestic chaplain (at Sandringham) to King George who fled England in late 1911 after a scandal over another woman (immorality) and instances of drunkenness. They actually put out a warrant for his arrest but he was one step ahead of the coppers. One wonders where he hid for those years from late 1911 until he popped up on the battlefields of France as a decorated legionnaire in 1916? Rumors had him in Northwest Canada or hiding underground in London. A more reliable article indicated he left for Austria with his wife but after the scandal broke, his newly wed American wife, Nora Davis, returned to the United States with her well known brother Richard Harding Davis but there was never any mention of Farrar following after her. I would like to believe that when he fled to Europe and possible France, as one newspaper speculated, he actually went and joined the French Foreign Legion to bury his indiscretions and start anew. Also, the mention of George Ullard in his role of trench line troubadour in “Strenuous Life in Foreign Legion” (page 9) is confirmed in several other contemporary articles. He seemed to enchant the Germans in the opposing trenches with his singing on several occasions prior to his death.
I hope you enjoy reading these as well as I did.
Legion News Clippings 2
I was away for much of the weekend so this post is a day later than usual but here are some of the interesting Foreign Legion related items I found on the web during the last month.
1. France’s North African Empire II. Here is an interesting article I found about France’s recent operations in North Africa. It’s not entirely about the Foreign Legion but it is about their old stomping ground in the western Sahara. (My ¢ .02: Like many other former colonies around the world it seems most of these north African countries (Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Mauritania, Chad, Libya and Niger) are destined to become failed states beset by corruption, ethnic disputes and the ever-retarding influence of radical Islam. The big 1960’s socialist-led push for Western powers to jettison their colonial possessions prematurely is finally revealed for the failure it was then and is now. No politically correct mantra can say these countries are better off now than they would have been if they were kept under administrative and military control of their colonial power.)
2. Forlorn Hope Soldiers. Michel, a reader of this blog, recently pointed me to his Facebook page and pictures of his 54mm desert fort (below). It’s a very nice construction and must take up half his dinner table at that scale. The next steps I would recommend would be a flagpole with the tricolor and some interior furniture such as water barrels, a bench or two, and some ladders.
3. Foreign Legion Fort at Bou Denib. Here is a super awesome desert fort W.I.P. of the Bou Denib blockhouse. It appears to be made with the intention of creating resin copies for use with the ever developing line of 28mm Foreign Legion Miniatures at Unfeasibly Miniatures. More pics here.
4. Triumph & Tragedy in northern Africa. This 2008 after action report from the Hamburger Tactica show somehow eluded me these these last years. It shows a really nice table complete with a Beau Geste type desert fort and a neighboring village and lots of action.
5. Foreign Legion “Twin Machine Guns” Arcade Game. I know this game has nothing to do with history, war gaming, miniatures or literature but it’s still an interesting example of how the Foreign Legion had permeated various nooks and cranny’s of our popular culture over the years. It was made in 1971 when even the Men’s Adventure pulps were dying off and six years before The Last Remake of Beau Geste. Go here for more information.
6. French Foreign Legion: 3e REI & 2e RE. Here is a video on the modern Foreign Legion that is pretty interesting. I’m surprised at how many legionnaires from the UK and Commonwealth countries are in the Foreign Legion. The reputation of these English speakers is that they are more likely to desert than other nationalities but the ones that stay in make the best legionnaires.
It’s Saturday morning here in cold and gloomy Wisconsin. The time of week formerly reserved for kids to get up early and sit before the TV in their pajamas to watch cartoons and adventure shows. So, in the spirit of Saturday mornings long past, here is a bit of juvenile fun from the British comic Lion (15 May 1954). Lesson learned–don’t mess with a Legionnaire’s food.
Grit Gregson_Trouble at the Barracks
(NOTE: These Lion comics were posted to the usenet comic newsgroups a couple years ago so many thanks goes to the original up-loaders.)
This month’s pulp fiction story is from the May 1957 edition of Ken for Men which was one of the many titles of “Men’s Real Adventure” genre of magazines that proliferated in the 1950’s – 1970’s. It flagrantly and luridly fictionalizes the real life of writer Isabelle Eberhardt. Eberhardt was associated with the Foreign Legion in several instances of her time in North Africa. Her half-brother joined the Legion in 1888 and she moved to Algeria shortly after and began her unique career as a writer, reporter and activist on behalf of the native inhabitants of North Africa under French rule. This got her kicked out of Africa until she married an Algerian Cavalry NCO, gained French citizenship and returned to her adopted land. She was also a war reporter that covered the incidents surrounding the battle of Moungar in 1903. I believe she also acted as a nurse to wounded legionnaires that were brought back to the hospital in Aïn Séfra after that battle. She died tragically in the massive flood that hit Aïn Séfra in 104. …and if you read the story, as tragic as her life was at times and that fact she was abused by French officers, I’m pretty sure she was not dragged behind a horse for two hours by sadistic Legionnaires. This embellishment and the sexual undertones are simply the spice and flavor you will find in these type of magazines. If you are interested in the real Isabelle Eberhardt you can find many leads on her at this link. There is also a movie on her life.
The Legion’s Most Wanted Woman
From the website Mens Pulp Mags I found out that “Ken for Men was one of many postwar men’s magazines published by pulp mogul, Martin Goodman. It was one of his “Diamond Group” of men’s mags, along with Stag, Male, Men, Man’s World, For Men Only and others.”
The record of the French Foreign Legion in World War I is exemplary by any standards. The RMLE (the last task organization that the Legion fought in for most of the war, 11 Nov 1915-20 Sep 1920) was one of France’s most decorated units. There were 42,883 Foreign Legion volunteers during the war. Of these, 157 officers and 5,172 legionnaires were killed. Another 500 officers and more than 25,000 legionnaires were wounded. This amounted to a casualty rate of almost 70%. This short article summarizes those heroic sacrifices made by the Legion during that conflict and explains why the French showered this unit with awards and special citations for bravery. It originally appeared in the French Weekly periodical L’Illustration on 19 Jan 1918. Gustav Babin was a long time French reporter and later war correspondent for L’Illustration. I found this English translation on Hathi Trust. It appears to have been donated by William Farnsworth to the Harvard University Library. William Farnsworth is undoubtedly the father of Henry Weston Farnsworth, a Harvard graduate who joined the Foreign Legion on 05 January 1915 and was killed on the battlefield 28 September that same year near Navarin Farm, Champagne, France. This must have been one of several books and papers of Henry and his father that was donated to the library for the Henry Weston Farnsworth Room (created in 1916 in honor of Henry). Pictures below show the two fourragere and the Legion honor guard referred to in the article.
The Legion by Gustave Babin
This month’s French Foreign Legion randomness….
1. Steampunk French Militaire. Steampunk Soldiers: Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam is a newer release from Osprey Publishing. It features fantastical uniform prints and background information for various national armed forces as they would be depicted in a Steampunk / Victorian era from 1887 to 1895. Countries included are Great Britain, France, Germany, United States and Confederate States of America, Russia, Austo-Hungarian Empire, Italy, Japan and The Minor Powers. Here are some teasers from the French forces.
2. Kazakshtani in French Foreign Legion. I never get tired of reading how some Legionnaires decided to join the Foreign Legion and their experiences therein. In this news story it seems that Jean-Claude Van Damme is still an inspiration to potential bleus. Article.
3. Beau Sabreur Book Review. I stumbled on a nice blog (Strange at Ecbatan) who’s proprietor reviews old best sellers and forgotten popular books. One of his reviews is on P.C. Wren’s Beau Sabreur.
4. Mali Update. A great news report here on the ongoing operation (Operation Serval) currently taking place in in the Ifoghas Mountains. The 2REP is depicted in the video and although the announcer says this is part one of a two part report I cannot find the second video.
Some background on last years fighting can be found here. Update on the very recent combat is here.