A young American bored at the prospect of an office career, Doty joined the French Foreign Legion in 1925 for a life of adventure. It was not long in coming: immediately after basic training Doty and his regiment were despatched to Syria to put down an uprising by Druse tribesmen. Doty took part in many of the key engagements in this hard-fought, brutal campaign, winning the croix de guerre in the process.
Once the revolt was suppressed Doty was assigned to labour duties, and the prospect of four years of road building induced him to desert to British Transjordan, but he was caught in the attempt and sentenced to eight years hard labour (thanks to outside American influence he served little more than a year before being ejected from the Legion).
Despite his desertion and imprisonment, Doty remained a fervent Legion supporter and his jaunty description of legionnaire life reflected that enthusiasm. His narrative of the campaign in Syria is highly engaging, the fierce defence of Mouseifré a minor military classic.
Written in diary form we discover what life is really like for a recruit in the Legion. Murray takes us through training – with its emphasis on discipline and punishment – and describes the intense comradeship that derives from such shared hardship. He had joined-up in 1960, and after basic training found himself taking part of the final stages of the war in Algeria.
As well as tracking down the FLN in the rugged mountains of Algeria, as a paratrooper in 2 REP he took a limited part in the ‘Generals’ Putsch’ against the de Gaulle government – a complete fiasco, well-described here. His sympathetic insights into the plight of his fellow legionnaires and the people of war-torn Algeria are particularly welcome. Murray is a naturally gifted writer, with a good sense of humour and an introspective bent rare in the successful warrior. His account remains the best English-language memoir of the Legion.
Turning his back on a bucket-load of youthful indiscretions and inevitable rejection by the British Army, Jennings joined the Legion to prove he had the right warrior spirit. He did well enough in basic training to be allowed to go through to the elite 2 REP, the Legion’s parachute regiment. But from then on things began to go wrong.
Too much of a free-spirit, he soon became bored and disillusioned with peace-time soldiering, and made the fatal mistake of alienating both superiors and comrades (an animosity among some legionnaires that continues to the present). While on service in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa he made a poorly planned attempt at desertion, which ended with him being captured by local bounty hunters. Once back in France he took a more straightforward route home, jumping on a cross-channel ferry while on leave, thus concluding his less-than-distinguished Legion career. But this has provided Jennings with material for a highly intriguing look at the modern Legion, both good and bad. He has a sharp eye for detail and his frank account – not least of his own failings – makes for a good read that goes beyond the more usual, prosaic stories of Legion life.
When Tony Sloane volunteered for the Legion he was looking for something to provide meaning and structure in his life. This the Legion gave him in no uncertain terms. One of the many Brits who battled their way into 2 REP during the 1980s and ’90s he fulfilled much his standard five-year contract in Djibouti, being promoted to corporal in the process. And it was a tough process, as he himself wrote: ‘I had turned from a baby-faced boy into a man, and I looked at the world through different, harder, deeper eyes. I was content in my aggression and hate. It fuelled me. It made me strong. The Legion had done its job and made me a legionnaire for life.’ This is an authentic voice of the Legion. Sloane has little time for introspective asides; he simply tells it how he saw it, with a controlled anger that was to stay with him for many years after his contract had ended.
In this case, not a
memoir but the only good English-language history of the Legion. Written by an academic historian with
detailed knowledge of France and its military, this is a superb piece of
Porch’s research puts all previous and, indeed, subsequent
histories to shame; he has put in the work in the archives of the Legionand the French Army to provide new and authoritative insights into the world’s most
extraordinary military institution.
Whereas previous histories have tended just to enumerate the Legion's battlefield achievements, Porch has fully analyzed its role in French military history, while also considering social and political aspects to provide a rounded picture of the Legion - in war and peace. Although somewhat dense for the casual reader, this is the book for anyone with a genuine interest in the history of the French Foreign Legion.