Bonjuor encore, mes amis. As the countdown to lift-off continues (getting ever more adrenaline-pumping closer), I have decided upon a self-imposed sabbatical from the zany, murky tales of life in the Legion in order to bring you the new, revised Alphabet (according to la Légion Etrangére). So sit back and enjoy as I delve deeper than ever into the facts, figures and folklore surrounding this brave, noble and truly insane establishment.
A is for AFGHANISTAN
The ever-larger looming destination for me and my merry band of international misfits, Afghanistan is the epitome of 21st Century war. Billed by some as our generation’s Vietnam (albeit a more multi-national affair), the current war in Afghanistan has been raging for almost 10 years. France (incl. the Legion) have been in the thick of it from the start, and today serve as the 4th-highest contributor of coalition troops after the US, Britain and Germany. Approximately 3,500 French soldiers are currently stationed in Afghanistan, with the French having suffered a total of 49 casualties since the beginning of the conflict. France typically deploy their soldiers on 6-month missions, which compares favourably with Britain (9 months) and the US (1 year). My own role over in Taliban Town shall be that of mine-sweeper/detector. Flanked on all sides by ground infantry, my boys and I will be charged with securing principal routes and sniffing out all semblances of roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices (I.E.D.). One must be sure before the green light is given, as anything over-looked could result in a big boom and an early flight home.
B is for BANDES
Ah, les bandes. Translating roughly as "band" or "group", countless numbers of Bandes exist within the Legion’s ranks today. Membership is far from exclusive, with many Legionnaires (myself included) laying claim to populating the ranks of several Legion Bandes. Here is a select example of the more elite Bandes existing within the ranks of the French Foreign Legion today:
Bande de Branleurs (Bunch of wankers/dossers)
This applies to any Legionnaire caught sitting down for more than 4.5 seconds during the working day, or sufficiently injured so as to be excluded from work-detail.
Bande de Chiffons (Bunch of slobs/messy bastards)
A speck of dust on your boots? Bed-covers not correctly folded in the morning? A button undone on your combat vest? Congratulations, you’re now a full-fledged good-for-nothing Chiffon, obviously completely unconcerned with your physical appearance or personal hygiene.
Bande de Chiffreurs (Bunch of desk-jockey calculators)
I’m sorry, but no-one cares about your tours of Chad, Kosovo, Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Afghanistan, nor your 20 years of service, completion of numerous punishing assault courses and walls of medals. If you’ve since decided to hang up your combat boots and work more towards the administration side of Legion life, you qualify as a chiffreur and therefore forfeit all knowledge of weapons, tactics and physical fitness, as well as any right to order young, petulant, inexperienced Legionnaires (the REAL warriors, grrrr!!) about the place. Bloody pen-pushers!
Bande de Gamelles (Bunch of Cooking pots…….seriously)
Anyone caught displaying any sort of urgency en route to lunch.
Bande de Terroristes
Anyone with a beard.
Bande de Tracteuristes (Bunch of Tractor-ers…?)
Anyone behind the wheel of a military vehicule, instead of progressing on foot like a real soldier!
And my personal favourite.....
During basic instruction, myself and a few lads were hanging around outside the Treasury waiting to be called in for confirmation of our bank details. A Chief Sergeant passed by, unnoticed by our gaggling gang of gossiping grannies. Outraged by this glaringly insolent show of insubordination, he proceeded to unleash a flame-tinted toe-curling diatribe upon us unwitting legionnaires. Finally, he finished up by venomously spitting out the eternally classic
"Bande de Fascistes".
I, for one, felt extremely proud.
C is for CAMERON
The Battle of Cameron is by far the Legion’s most famous battle, spawning an annual day of celebration held in higher regard than Christmas, Bastille or even Pancake Tuesday! Encapsulating the very essence of what it is (or rather, should be) to be a Legionnaire, the 30th April every year sees such wacky traditions as the youngest legionnaire at the company taking command for the morning, with the officers forced to deliver us breakfast in bed, mop and clean our toilets, pick up cigarette buts around the building and of course, do push-ups on account of their shoddy efforts. A quite enjoyable, amiable atmosphere prevails in general throughout the day. For the whole spiel regarding the ancient battle itself, see here.
D is for DAS UNTERFALL
Following the fall of Berlin and termination of hostilities between the Germans and the Allies, many former S.S. officers and soldiers sought refuge in the ranks of the French Foreign Legion, thus profoundly altering the culture, history, and traditions of the Legion. In the years to follow the end of World War 2, the Legion were to embark on their fateful mission to Indochina, losing over 10,000 souls (the Legion’s ranks had been swollen to a staggering 72,000), the majority of which were Germans and Austrians. Today, various companies in various regiments throughout the Legion sing various songs introduced by the post WW2 German contingent. Titles such as "Schwarze Rose", "Kamaraden" and "Westerwald" are all treated to regular outings by unphased Legionnaires, blaring out lyrics in the German language already fully acceptant of their place in our family’s chequered history.
Tune in next week for letters E to H, as we continue our Legion Alphabet.