"A pleasure to read and nearly impossible to put down."
"Embodies an experience that many have enjoyed in fantasy-few in reality."
-The Washington Post
The French Foreign Legion-mysterious, romantic, deadly-is filled with men of dubious character, and hardly the place for a proper Englishman just nineteen years of age. Yet in 1960, Simon Murray traveled alone to Paris, Marseilles, and ultimately Algeria to fulfill the toughest contract of his life: a five-year stint in the Legion. Along the way, he kept a diary.
Legionnaire is a compelling, firsthand account of Murray's experience with this legendary band of soldiers. This gripping journal offers stark evidence that the Legion's reputation for pushing men to their breaking points and beyond is well deserved. In the fierce, sun-baked North African desert, strong men cracked under brutal officers, merciless training methods, and barbarous punishments. Yet Murray survived, even thrived. For he shared one trait with these hard men from all nations and backgrounds: a determination never to surrender.
"The drama, excitement, and color of a good guts-and-glory thriller."
-Dr. Henry Kissinger
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May 28, 2006
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Excerpt from Legionnaire by Simon Murray
22 February 1960 - Paris
I was awake long before the dawn, and by the time there was a grayness in the sky I had finally made up my mind to go. By eight o'clock I was in the M�tro heading for the Old Fort at Vincennes--the recruitment center of the Foreign Legion. There were few people about, and those who were had grim Monday-morning faces, probably reflecting my own.
From Vincennes station I walked through the streets and eventually arrived at the massive gates of the Old Fort. On a plaque on the wall there was a simple notice:
bureau d'engagement - l�gion �trang�re - ouvert jour et nuit.
I hammered on the huge doors, which swung open in response, and stepped into a cobbled courtyard to be confronted by the first legionnaire I had ever seen. He was dressed in khaki with a blue cummerbund around his waist and bright red epaulettes on his shoulders. He wore a white kepi on his head and had white gaiters, and I thought he looked quite impressive. I was less impressed with the archaic-looking rifle at his side. He slammed the great doors shut and beckoned me with his head to follow him.
I was ushered into a room on the door of which was inscribed bureau de semaine, which I assumed meant General Office or something similar. It was a primitive enough chamber with a bare plank floor and a wooden table and chair. One or two old and tired-looking photographs depicting legionnaires holding the regimental colors, men driving tanks through the desert, and others marching down the Champs-�lys�es hung limply on the wall.
A sergeant sitting behind the table looked me up and down but said nothing. I broke the ice and said in English that I had come to join the Foreign Legion, and he gave me a look that was a mixture of wonder and sympathy. He spoke reasonable English with a German accent and asked me "Why?"
I said something conventional about adventure and so on, and he said I had come to the wrong place. He said five years in the Legion would be long and hard, that I should forget the romantic idea that the English have of the Legion, and that I would do well to go away and reconsider the whole thing. I said I had given it a lot of thought and had come a long way, and eventually he said "Okay" with a sigh and led me upstairs and into an assembly hall.
As I walked into the hall, I was confronted with about forty people sitting on benches around the walls. Eighty eyes immediately focused on me, and my own swiveled round the room in a flash. There was not one single face on which my eyes could come to rest and l could say "He is like me" or "We are the same in some way." I knew instantly that I had not the slightest thing in common with any one of them.
I took an empty place at the end of one of the benches and contemplated my feet, but I could feel them all staring at me. They were an incredible mixture, dark, gray, white, brown, beards, moustaches, bald, and shaggy, wearing an unlimited array of different garments, but they all looked tough and unkempt and totally different from me. I was wishing to hell that I had worn a pair of jeans and an old pullover instead of a three-piece suit with a double-breasted waistcoat, of all things.
A couple of them were snickering on the other side of the room, and l kept my eyes averted although I could feel myself getting hot. We sat for a long time until at last an officer arrived with a couple of men in white coats, and we were told to strip down to underpants.
One by one we were called forward and given a series of medical tests. This took two hours, and after it was over we were again left sitting on our benches. The medical tests had loosened a few tongues, and people were chatting away to each other in different languages, mostly German. I kept to myself at this point and was wondering whether I would be in time to catch the six o'clock flight from Orly back to London.
An hour passed, and the officer reappeared accompanied by the sergeant who had been in the Bureau de Semaine. He made an announcement in French, from which I gathered that they had need of only seven of us and the rest could go. They read out seven names and mine was one of them.
The seven of us were called forward and led out of the room, leaving behind the rest who were being herded up for departure back into the welcome arms of Paris. We were taken along a series of dark passages and up several flights of stone stairs to a supply room at the top of the old building, where we were handed battledress and trousers, a pair of boots, and a greatcoat. Then we were given some food in a dingy little room that had metal tables and stools.
Nobody spoke a word during the meal, and when it was over we were ushered into a small room and made to listen to a tape recording, repeated in several languages. In the room there was a single naked forty-watt bulb dangling from the ceiling on a long cord, and the atmosphere was sinister. With me were two Germans, a Spaniard, a Belgian, and two Dutchmen. Everybody was tense.