A Year’s Service in the Foreign Legion of France (1861)


I’ve been a bad blogger lately and to make up for that here is a quick post on the Foreign Legion as described by an unknown Irish legionnaire who served for a year sometime around 1861.  His account of the Legion appeared in the New York Times newspaper in 1886, twenty some years after the fact, and recounts time spent in North Africa training, marching and working on construction projects.  It’s interesting to read his description of service at the time when the American Civil War was raging and how he came across some Americans serving in the 2nd Regiment.  Unlike many English language accounts this one does not end with desertion–the author was given opportunity to get out of the Legion during what we called in the U.S. Army a “Reduction in Force (RIF)”.

A Year’s Service in the Foreign Legion of France

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Hodgepodge for January 2014

Not much happening this past month other than putting the holiday decorations away, freezing in the arctic cold, shoveling mountains of snow, and longing for spring.  I did find some interesting items related to the Foreign Legion.

1.  Légion Etrangère Magazine.  This is not Kepi Blanc magazine.  This appears to be something new (and promising I might add).  There is a series of eight (so far) slick magazines published that are all devoted to the Foreign Legion.  Visit the website and see for yourself what each issue contains–click on the Articles tab for short versions of each article.  Click on the News tab and discover lots of interesting books and news tidbits on the Foreign Legion.  You can also go to the Groupe Hommell to purchase these magazines. The list is below and the gallery shows the front covers.

Légion Etrangère n°8: Les unités spéciales de la Légion en Indochine
Légion Etrangère n°7: Le génie dans la Légion
Légion étrangère n°6: Légionnaires parachutistes en Algérie
Légion Etrangère n°5: Kolwezi 1978, dernière opération aéroportée de l’armée française
Légion étrangère n°4: Les volontaires étrangers 1939-1945
Légion étrangère n°3: Légion et Casque Bleu
Légion Etrangère n°2: Camerone, du sacrifice au mythe
Légion étrangère n°1: Légionnaires pour la France, histoire d’une loi.

2.  Légion et Génie au Maroc.  A nice website devoted to Foreign Legion and French military engineers and their accomplishments in Morocco.   Jacques, the website owner, has compiled dozens of photographs and articles on military forts and engineering projects such as tunnels and bridges.  He also has another website devoted to the history of the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate where there are more pictures and articles.  There is a small section on the Foreign Legion as well.

3.  British Soldier Wins Honors in French Foreign Legion.  This is a somewhat older article from the UK’s Daily Mail that I stumbled across recently.  It’s an amazing story but I also found the comments very interesting too.

4.  Random Photos.  I just had to share these two pictures.  I found the first on Flickr.  It looks like the original was a high quality black and white photo that was recently colorized.  The Caption says…French Foreign Legion Officer, Dress Uniform, 13-DBLE.

The second picture was found buried in an old issue of Le Miroir (09 Feb 1919) that I found on Galica.  It depicts Capitaine Chastenet de Géry of the French Foreign Legion detachment during their tour of the United States as part of a promotion of the 4th Liberty Bond.  Present also in Oklahoma for this picture is Chief Cheyenne Eagle and U.S. General Pentecost.



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Commando: Battle in the Desert

Commando 4596 Cover

Commando is a very long running British comic that started in 1961 and has continued to provide the finest in military related graphic stories to this day.  They have a wonderful website and from what I understand an incredible production rate of about eight issues a month.  That is incredible for a comic which features a fully developed stand alone story that covers 64 pages with a full color cover in each issue.  I remember having a couple of Commandos in my long lost comic collection back in the 1970′s–never knew where they were acquired–but I loved the stories of WWII and air combat.  Their latest issue as of today is #4671.  Imagine that, so much artwork and story telling!

Commando featured many French Foreign Legion related stories over the years–probably several dozen.  I found one the other day and thought it important to mark Commando as another contributor to the legend of the Foreign Legion in popular culture.  Since Commando remains in publication I will only index those issues that I find which feature the French Foreign Legion.  I noticed on their website links to subscribe to the comic and one of the most affordable is via digital subscription.  There are also many compilations of older issues for sale.

Battle in the Desert was the featured story in Commando #4596.  Legion Sergeant Jack McBride and Corporal Yanez are leading a column that is hot on the trail of the bandit who took their regiment’s payroll when they come across a notorious Tuareg slaver.  This story is really well done with obvious research done by the author into North African colonial history.

Commando 4596 Battle in the Desert

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Legion Pulp: Legionnaire’s Way

Legionnaire's WayThis months pulp story is another Georges Surdez short story that appeared in Collier’s on 5 April 1941.  (Well, not quite a pulp but nonetheless it is by Surdez.)  The story takes place in Japanese occupied Indochina and is a good example of many of Surdez’s wartime stories that hit hard at the Axis forces be they German, Italian or Japanese.  This one has an odd twist at the end that I’m not really sure I like.  It’s a bit hard to read–this one actually looks better on the PC than it does printed despite my attempts to enlarge the pages.  It was found at UNZ.

Legionnaires Way

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John Harvey AKA Ex-Legionnaire 1384, Operator 1384

Legion CavalrymanJohn Henry Harvey was an Englishman (real name David Harvey John Jones) in the French Foreign Legion who, along with Bennett Doty (an American) and two Germans, deserted the Legion in Syria in 1926.  He was captured but eventually allowed to leave the Foreign Legion after enough diplomatic and political pressure was made to bear on the French Army.  Like his comrade Bennett Doty, Harvey also wrote a book about his exploits in the 1st Foreign Legion Cavalry Regiment (1er REC) in Syria.  His book, With the French Foreign Legion in Syria, was published in 1928.

I mention Harvey because I discovered a great write up of him at the fantastic blog known as Bear Alley.  Steve, the Bear Alley proprietor, is a literal fountain of knowledge on British comics, books and magazines.  He wrote two posts related to John Harvey that I found to be extremely informative and useful to me as a book collector.  I often saw references to books written by “Ex-Legionnaire 1384″.  Liberty magazine had a long serial about the “Hell Hounds” of the Foreign Legion penned by Ex-Legionnaire 1348.  I had a hunch that #1348 was Harvey but I had no reference saying so.  Harvey also wrote many of his books in collaboration with William J. Blackledge who also wrote several of his own Foreign Legion books in other pen names.  To further confuse me there were some books written by Francis A. Waterhouse that were also attributed to Legionnaire 1484.  Thanks to Steve at Bear Alley for his informative posts that sort this all out–links to them are below as well as a short bibliography of both Harvey and Blackledge.

Escape from the Legion Part 1.

Escape from the Legion Part 2.

William J. Blackledge

Books by John Harvey
With the French Foreign Legion in Syria. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1928. Greenhill, 1995
John Harvey Books as Ex-Legionnaire 1384
Hell Hounds of France, in collaboration with W. J. Blackledge. London, 1932.
Zillah: Child of the Desert, with W. J. Blackledge. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1932.
With the Secret Service in Morocco, as told to W. J. Blackledge. London, 1934.
Legion of the Lost, in collaboration with Anton Lind. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1934.
The Soulless Legion, in collaboration with W. J. Blackledge. London, Denis Archer, 1934.
The Arab Patrol. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1935.
The Desert Patrol. London & Dublin, Mellifont Press, 1935.
Spies of the Sahara. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1936.
The Son of Allah. London, Rich & Cowan, Jan 1937.
The Mutiny of Fort Saada. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1937.
Eater of Women by W. J. Blackledge, in collaboration with Ex-Legionnaire 1384. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1938.
John Harvey Books as Operator 1384:
The Devil’s Diplomats. London, Hutchinson & Co., Jun 1935.
The Catacombs of Death [ghosted by A. Whatoff Allen]. London, Hutchinson & Co., Jan 1936.
The White Tuareg, London, Rich & Cowan, Feb 1936.
The Scourge of the Desert. London, Rich & Cowan, Sep 1936.
Queen of the Riffs. London, John Long, 1937.
The Black Arab. London, Rich & Cowan, 1937.
Jackals of the Secret Service. London, Rich & Cowan, 1938.
The Last Outpost. London, Rich & Cowan, 1938.
Spies and Rebels. London, Rich & Cowan, 1939.
McCann of the Legion, London, Cassell & Co., Sep 1939.
McCann the Spy. London, Cassell & Co., Feb 1940.
McCann the Fighter. London, Cassell & Co., 1941.
McCann the Rebel. London, Cassell & Co., 1941.
John Harvey books as John Barrington (series: Ken Williams in all):
Murder in White Pit. London, John Langdon, 1947.
The Moving Finger. London, John Langdon, 1947.

William J. Blackledge Books
Hell’s Broth Militia. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1936.
The Legion of Marching Madmen. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1936.
Lovers in the Desert. London, Heath, Cranton, 1936.
A Girl in the Spy Racket. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1939.
Give the Lady a Camel. London, W. P. Nimmo, Hay & Mitchell, 1948.
William J. Blackledge Books as Terry Brennan
Death Squads in Morocco, as told to W. J. Blackledge. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1937.
William J. Blackledge Books as Patrolman Craven
Hell Riders. An account of the Irak Desert Patrol, as told to W. J. Blackledge. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1935.
William J. Blackledge Books as Digger Craven
Peninsula of Death, as told to W. J. Blackledge. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1937.

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Hodgepodge for December 2013

My last post of the year.  Here are some of the items I came across this month related to the Foreign Legion.

381.  Foreign Legion Uniform Plates at “Miniaturas Militares por Alfons Canovas” This website is a gold mine for fans of military uniforms and I happened to notice there were some recent posts depicting uniforms of the French Foreign Legion.  There are actually several entries about the Foreign Legion on the entire blog and using the search function on the blog allows you to pull them all up.  The links below will take you to the five recent posts depicting the excellent work (like the picture above) of one Jose Mº (Maria) Bueno, a fairly prolific artist and writer of uniform books in Spanish during the 1980-90′s.

No 1.  1831-1845 Link
No 2.  1851-1860 Link
No 3.  1863-1870 Link
No 4.  1885-1890 Link
No 5.  1892-1920 Link

2.  Websites of Note.  I’m always finding new places on the web but I’m not very attentive to sharing these finds under my blog roll or links.  These were some of the neat ones this month….

Bir Hacheim  This French website is devoted to all things about the French military.  It has several posts about the Foreign Legion.  I use it as mainly as a resource to find more information about books, magazines and films related to the Foreign Legion and other elite French forces.

Dien Bien Phu (Redstar Miniatures).  This blog mainly is devoted to an interesting line of 28mm miniatures for the Indochina War.  There are also some related posts to uniforms and equipment of this conflict.

Franska Främlingslegionen.  This great site is devoted to the Swedish members of the Foreign Legion.  There is a wealth of information here and the author has done some remarkable research into a very narrow subject.  There is a page in English and the scope of the blog says “Welcome to my page. Here I have gathered information from my collection of books and the internet, which I hope will be a fairly comprehensive “dictionary” for those who want to dig deeper into the subject, “The French Foreign Legion. Swedes and in Swedish”.  A nice blog to browse–you never know what you might find here.  Check out the link to the “curiosities“.

3.  Thomas Gunn Figures in Action.  More action pictures from Micheal’s collection of  Thomas Gunn Miniatures.

4.  Legion Wargames.  Thanks to the Bir Hacheim website mentioned above I discovered a link to Legion Wargames, manufactures of traditional map and cardboard counter war games.  In particular they have made a game called Tonkin that looks very interesting and another (soon to be released) that depicts the battle of Dien Bien Phu.   Also available is a game called Ici c’est la France! The Algerian War of Independence 1954 – 1952.  Their website is a bit buggy but patience is rewarded.

5.   Tabletop Wargame Action.  The folks at the Association – Les Riflemen blog posted some interesting pictures of a miniatures war game they played involving a 1857 skirmish between the French and Algerian Kabilye tribesmen.

xmas_legion3_2013_192_v2_f_by_mercenarygraphics-d6rc83e6.  Mercenary Graphics.  Eric at Mercenary Graphics has a very nice range of holiday Foreign Legion themed products.  I somehow overlooked posting this before Christmas but you can stock up now for 2014.    His other work can be seen at his page on Deviant Art.

Administrative Notes:  This is where I usually make bold statements about future “next year is gonna be great” goals and specific milestones for this blog.  Not this time.  I will simply promise more Foreign Legion book and movie reviews (since I’ve already done the reading and the watching all that’s left is the writing).  Pulps and the monthly “hodgepodge” will also continue.  I will try and post more miniature work since I’m finally wrapping up some projects.  It seems the topic of the classic French Foreign Legion is never close to being exhausted and I’m looking forward to posting another year’s worth of exciting and interesting information about La Légion étrangère française.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to all the readers and followers of this blog.

Joyeux Noël et bonne année.

Frohe Weihnachten und ein glückliches neues Jahr.

Nothing sounds better than the carol Silent Night sung in German.  …unless of course it is sung in German by the French Foreign Legion.

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Legion Pulp: I Was Shanghaied into the Foreign Legion

ShanghaiedPulp magazines had a real good run and it’s amazing how many people don’t have a clue about these wonderful gems of popular fiction.   They pulp heyday lasted from about 1900 until about 1950 although these dates are arguable to some.  During this 50 year period the newsstands and dime stores were filled with fiction magazines of all possible genres–westerns, detective, gangster, romance, science fiction, horror, aviation, and pulp heroes such as John Carter, Tarzan, the Black Bat, Zorro, and Fu Manchu.  After World War II however, things began to change as soldiers returning to civilian life got back to work and started raising families.  Television, comics, radio and paperbacks were the new rage and pulp circulations tumbled.  Tastes changed as well and the surviving pulp magazines started to take on more edgy and often lurid subjects.  Enter the Men’s Adventure magazines–the last gasp of the pulps and the progenitors of girlie magazines (Adam, Stag, Cavalier, etc.)

This month’s pulp (non-fiction) story comes from the August 1949 Argosy whose byline by then was “The Complete Man’s Magazine”.  Price was $.25 cents.  Features in these magazines were often a mix of non-fiction articles with very short fiction filling the covers.  This issue had seven fiction stories but also five nonfiction articles, four photo features, nine recurring departments and several other fillers.  Author’s were still top notch and included fiction by Les Savage Jr.  and true crime by Erle Stanley Gardner.

This Foreign Legion story was written by Walter G. Leathe, a navy veteran who decides to see Paris before he gets a full time job, gets married and settles down.  Somewhat fantastically he finds himself marching behind a gaggle of new recruits at “Fort Saint-Nicolas” in Marseilles.  Perhaps they were on their way to Fort Saint Jean but in any case Mt. Leathe is mistaken as an bleu and expeditiously put into the regimen that would try to bust him down and then build him up into a Legionnaire.  However, Mr. Leathe was going to have nothing to do with the Legion.  Too bad, he seemed tough enough, was offered promotion, and would probably have had more interesting things to write about after five years.

I Was Shanghaied into the Foreign Legion

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Luck of the Legion Double Feature

Luck of the Legion Double Feature Ad

Well, where I live, we finally have snow on the ground and the temperature yesterday was a high of 5 degrees (-15C).  We got our Christmas decorations up and the music on the stereo consists of holiday classics–Bing, Dino, Frank, Andy, Perry, Sammy, Burl, Johnny, Jo, Rosemary, Julie, Roger and Tony.   Hard cider is the drink of the season (for me) and the house smells of baking cookies.

Luck of the Legion_The Curse of Kwa

Luck of the Legion_The Hounds of Zambo

I’m backing up my hard drives again and organizing various collections of Foreign Legion related files.  In the spirit of this generous season here my last two Luck of the Legion episodes.  Both again from Eagle Comics (Eagle Annual #4 for the Curse of Kwa and #5 for Hounds of Zambo).  I don’t own these–the Annuals were found on the usenet groups so thanks goes to the anonymous uploader.


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Hodgepodge for November 2013

Wow!  Seems like I just wrote the wrap up for October.  I need to pick up the slack as this is only the third post for the month –but anyway, here are some of the more interesting Foreign Legion items I collected up during this past month.


1.  Ortiz: To Live a Man’s Life.   Yep, another book.  This time a biography of U.S. Marine Corps legend and former French Foreign Legionnaire Peter J. Ortiz.  Written by Laura Homan Lacy this book fills a gap on the exploits of one of World War Two’s little known heroes.  Ortiz joined the Foreign Legion in 1931.  He quickly made sergeant and temporary commander of an armored platoon and could have been commissioned as a full Lieutenant had he stayed on an additional five years.  Instead, in 1937, he left the Legion to return to the United States and began to work in Hollywood.  When the war broke out he returned to the Foreign Legion and eventually was captured by the Germans.  He escaped the following year and made his way back to the United States were he joined the Marine Corps and eventually went on to fight in Europe as one of the few Marines in the OSS.  You can read a good article about this book at the Leatherneck website or download it here.  There is lots more about Ortiz on the web but this link has a good synopsis of his remarkable career and adventurous life.

2.  Thomas Gunn Foreign Legion Miniatures.  This is the third addition to Thomas Gunn’s very fine series of Foreign Legion 1/30th scale miniatures.  These poses expand on two earlier releases and seem to have some poses in the tropical khaki campaign hat or wearing the kepi.  There seems to be over 20 different unique figures though I would have to take some time to make sure of the exact count.

3.  Trailquest Morocco Expedition 2013.  The intrepid motorbike explorers of Trailquest Adventures completed another expedition to Morocco this year to survey abandoned forts of the Foreign Legion.  You can see a short movie here and a slide show here.  This year they searched out the remains of a small Legion outpost at Atchana located about 20+ km north of the fort at Tazzouguert (their 2012 survey).  This fort appears to be in a very poor state.  Attached are two write ups of the fort and the expedition plan.


Atachana Fort

In Search of the Foreign Legion – Travel Information

6. My Little Margie – Foreign Legion.  My Little Margie was an American situation comedy made for radio that alternated between CBS and NBC from 1952 to 1955.  This episode is a screwball situation that features a bit where the not-so-bright boyfriend of Margie gets himself enlisted into the Foreign Legion.  I know I’m really stretching this blog’s focus with this radio show but I really, really love oldies be they westerns, serials, comics, paperbacks, television, books, toys, magazines and radio.  …and I thought this was pretty funny.  You can listen below or download directly from the Old Time Radio Researchers Library.

5.  To the Walls!  A short wargame on the nice LZ Bravo blog involving the Foreign Legion fighting off the attacking “Sons of the Desert”.  Link.

Posted in Books, Hodgepodge, Radio Play | 2 Comments