A couple of years back, when having morning coffee in a local cafe, an immaculately dressed elderly gentleman entered the cafe and sat at a nearby table.
I was immediately drawn to his attire. His shoes were highly polished and in good repair, you could cut toast on the crease of his trouser legs, his white shirt showed off the obvious military tie and embroided on the breast pocket of his blue tailored blazer was a badge that struck a chord in my memory.
As you do in a country town, we exchanged pleasantries and went about our own business.
As the years passed ‘Bob’ and I often saw each other in coffee shops and in answer to my questions, he told me of his lifetime in the military. He served in the British Army in various Corps, saw active service in various theatres and after serving in a foreign government’s military, retired to Australia.
On Anzac Day, 2016, I marched wearing my New South Wales Scottish Regiment bonnet with the Red Hackle.
You can image my delight when I spotted ‘Bob’ proudly wearing the White Kepi of La Legion Estrangere and marching with a detachment of servicemen from other countries and I realised that the foreign government he had told me about was of course, France.
We bumped into each other after the march. I complimented him on the White Kepi and his chestful of medals and he admired my Red Hackle. ‘Bob’ told me that he was the last surviving member of his Legion Battalion and I could see he was moved by the memories the Anzac Day Ceremony brought back.
Our meeting on Anzac Day, 25th April, 2016 reminded me of my interest in the French Foreign Legion.
When I was a very young man, Beau Geste, a fictional account of life in the French Foreign Legion, written by P.C.Wren and published in 1924 was one of my favourite adventure yarns.
All of my mates read it too and we all talked of what it would be like to serve as a Legionnaire.
In the late 1950’s I was commissioned in an infantry battalion of the old Citizen Military Forces, now known as the Army Reserve.
It was a NSW Scottish Regiment tradition that after parade, all Officers were required to attend the Officers Mess for drinks etc. We young Subalterns were required to remain in the Mess until the Mess President gave permission for us to leave.
On one such evening in the Mess, the topic of conversation among the younger Officers was the French Foreign Legion.
As the youngest Lieutenant in the Battalion, I was directed to write to the Legion and request enlistment information and I happily complied.
Not long afterwards, I received a reply and dutifully provided a copy of the original and my translation thereof to each Subaltern in the Battalion together with the CO and his Deputy.
Not one of us made the decision to enlist. How wise we were for ones so young.
For over fifty years I’ve treasured that letter and I’ve copied the original for your enjoyment. Unfortunately, all of my schoolboy French has deserted me and I’m unable to provide you with a translation.
Anyway, here is the scanned copy.
I’ve made a copy for ‘Bob’ and it will interesting to see the look on his face when I give it to him the next time we have coffee together.
Hoo roo for now.