Héros de la Légion étrangère française, oh mon dieu!
I wrote this post almost exactly two years ago. I thought I’d bring it forward, because it has a lot of the information in it and all the far more interesting asides (like Oded Fehr).
I’m digging back into the history of the Legion once more, this time not just because my curiousity bump was scratched by an anniversary date, which is usually what sets me off, but because I’m using the Foreign Legion in an upcoming book.
Here’s another interesting aside: I probably wouldn’t have thought to put the Foreign Legion into the book I’m researching right now, if I hadn’t written the original post two years ago and learned all the cool little factoids that came with it.
That’s a tiny glimpse of the answer to: “Where do you get your ideas?” 🤦♀️ –t.
History is a really cool place to wander. You learn all sorts of interesting facts and you can make connections between previously unrelated events, people and places.
So what has me excited now?
The French Foreign Legion.
In a lot of Victorian romances, the disgraced hero or the bad boy would escape their soiled reputation by joining the Foreign Legion.
Rick, the hero in The Mummy, was an officer in the Foreign Legion, before his unit was all but destroyed by Egyptian bandits…that later turned out to be ancient guardians of secret tombs, including the incredibly sexy and screen-melting Ardeth Bay, played by Israeli native Oded Fehr.
But I’m distracting myself. And you. 🙂
All the Victorian melodramas that had bad boys heading off for parts unknown to redeem themselves actually weren’t exaggerating about the Legion. It is one of the most fascinating military units ever created.
The French Foreign Legion was formed in 1831. It is unique, because it was made for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. It is commanded by French officers and French citizens are also free to serve in the unit.
Also unique to the Foreign Legion, when men join up, they do not swear allegiance to France, but to the Legion itself. That makes for a very strong sense of fraternity and esprit de corps.
The Legion training is demanding both physically and psychologically. A soldier who is injured in battle can apply for French citizenship under a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” (“French by spilled blood”).
For a lot of men with black pasts and nowhere else to go, the Legion was a home that their own country could no longer provide.
The Legion might have remained a mostly disparaged dumping ground for misfits and blackguards except for a small battle, the Battle of Camarón, that took place in Mexico 153 years ago today. On April 30, 1863, nearly 3,000 Mexicans surrounded the Hacienda Camarón, laying siege to the Legion patrol inside. The Legion refused to surrender. Instead, they fought almost to the last man. Three Legionnaires walked away from the battle.
There were a mere 65 Legionnaires in the patrol and they held the Mexicans off for seven hours.
Camarón and the bravery of the cavalry unit have become a symbol of the Legion’s fight-to-the-death attitude and the quality of their recruits.
That is the history that explains why Rick’s unit in The Mummy took a stand despite being horribly outnumbered in the opening scenes of the movie. The Foreign Legion has been portrayed in many films and TV shows since then. I don’t think the romantic mysticism surrounding the Legion is undeserved, either.
The French Foreign Legion is still operational today.
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