The monthly ESU event in February was held at Le Carousel restaurant in Saumur. The speaker was Colonel Herve Wallerand, a serving officer with the French Foreign Legion (FFL). He gave us a brief history of the FFL from its formation in 1831 by King Louis Philippe of France to recruit soldiers who were not only French but also other nationals to help in the conquest of North Africa and combat the enemies of France during her colonial era in particular.
The recruits in general were individuals from the margins of society, those with criminal records, ex soldiers from disbanded regiments, those looking for a new life, the isolated looking for a family that the legion provides. They could enlist under their own name or an assumed name.
The FFL is unique in that it is autonomous from the French army, a similar situation to the US Marine Corps. It's training programme is very rigorous. However the General FFL Commander is subordinated to the French Army chief of staff.
Colonel Wallerand informed us of the legion's main legend, when in 1863 a Captain Danjou along with 62 legionnaires and 3 officers, all with the exception of 3 died heroically being attacked by 2000 revolutionaries in Mexico. The Captain Danjou had a wooden hand and after the battle his hand was stolen from his corpse but later recovered and is now in the FFL museum.
Since 1831 approx 36000 legionnaires have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
In the modern world, the FFL now comprises of infantry, armoured cavalry, the engineering corps and a parachute unit. Recently an Alpine regiment was formed. The legion has seen action in Afghanistan, Djibouti and most recently Ivory Coast and Mali. It is also used as a protective force in Paris, French Guyane, Corsica and the French overseas territories in the Indian Ocean.
Current recruitment is much stricter. The age for recruitment is between 17 and 40.the average age is 23. The criminal records of the recruits are investigated and offenders who are murderers and burglars are rejected. During the 4 month selection period the recruits adaptability to community life in the legion, is also monitored. Under current legislation a foreign legionnaire can obtain French citizenship after 3 years service and after 5 years, authorisation to live and work in France. If he enrolled under a false identity he will be allowed to re-assume his given name. In addition French nationality can be obtained if one is wounded in service.
Currently the FFL comprises of 7349 men formed into 10 regiments of which 3 are based overseas. 80% of the legionnaires today are foreigners and 150 nationalities are represented. However in contrast approx 90% of the officers are French nationals. All religious faiths are accepted and there is no prejudice of religions. Daily French lessons are given to those recruits who cannot speak French. A spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood is instilled in them.
An audience of 39 members and guests listened attentively to the lecture.
At the conclusion Peter Clarke proposed a well deserved vote of thanks to Colonel Wallerand.
NOTE: A more detailed report is available from Edith on request firstname.lastname@example.org