French Foreign Legion talk with Ray LARGAN


At our meeting of the Cercle Français on 8 November, Ray Largan gave an excellent history of the French Foreign Legion. There were some interesting revelations such as the fact that the soldiers do not swear allegiance to France. This is highly unusual for an army! Interestingly, the soldiers in the French Foreign Legion march at 88 paces per minute while soldiers in other armies march at 120 paces per minute. There are 11 regiments of 7,700 men.

The Legion was initially stationed in Algeria and has been deployed in many conflicts and wars including the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, the Battle of Camerone in 1863 in Mexico when 62 Legion soldiers were up against 1000 regular Mexican soldiers and 500 cavalry. The French men bravely stood their ground and as a result 41 were killed, 21 were wounded and there were only three survivors. It was interesting and surprising to learn that this battle has been commemorated in both France and Mexico on 30 April every year since. The Mexicans were very gracious to the survivors, even forming a guard of honour for the Legion soldiers! 

The French Foreign Legion was deployed to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. However, Prussia was victorious and French dominance came to an end in that area. The war also led to the unification of Germany and the loss of Napoleon the Third as leader. France then further expanded into Africa and the Far East and acquired new territory in Southeast Asia. This became known as French Indochina. Ray spoke about the ground battle of Dien Bien Phu which took place in Vietnam in 1954. This battle was disastrous for the Legion and led to the surrender of most of the French forces. Following this, the government resigned and the new government supported French withdrawal from Indo-China. 

Thank you to Ray for the very interesting talk which was enjoyed by all!

Reviewer : Vikki NELSON