THE LURE OF La LEGION ESTRANGERE.

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.

foreign-legioin-application-1959-1

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.

 

THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION,’la Legion Estrangere.’

Yesterday I was searching my personal records for some family information and came across an array of paperwork and photographs dating from my early school years, through my first jobs, the commencement of my military training and leading through to my retirement.

As a school boy in the 1940’s and 50’s it was from books and stories from relatives and family friends returning from wars that stirred our fertile imaginations and our dreams of  excitement.

The French Foreign Legion was a regular discussion point at school and I recall being totally absorbed in the novels, ‘Beau Geste’ and ‘Beau Sabreur’, written by ex French Foreign Legionnaire, P C Wren in the early 1900’s.

These discoveries and recollections from my youth reminded me of two Legion related events.

In 1992 whilst working in Paris, I was fortunate to attend a massive military parade on The Avenue of the Grand Army. The last contingent in the parade was a battalion from the Legion.  The Legion prides itself on being the first into action and the last to leave the battlefield. The latter is reflected in the way they march to the accompaniment of their military bands. I can’t recall the length of their stride or the number of beats to the bar from their band but suffice to say they are both significantly slower than all other French military units.

The second event dates from 1959 not long after I’d been commissioned in the 30th Infantry Battalion, The New South Wales Scottish Regiment of the  Citizens Military Forces . The Legion and its legends were often the subject of spirited (alcohol induced) discussions in the Mess after parade.

The day after one such discussion, I wrote to the Legion’s major barracks in Marseille expressing my intention to enlist.

By the time I received a reply in November, 1959, common sense had prevailed and my original intention had totally evaporated.

The reply from the Legion was amongst the papers I discovered yesterday and it is reproduced here in full.

Foreign Legioin001

Back in the day I had a smattering of school boy French and fully understood the content of the letter which became the subject of much mirth both at work and in the Mess.

I still have my copies off Beau Geste and Beau Sabreur and I’m going to reread them starting tonight.

One thing is for sure, as I’m now over the age of 40 and I won’t be reapplying.

 

Hoo roo for now