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The Legion in the Trenches

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The Legion in the Trenches
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Russell A. Kelly & Edward Morlae
Date Published: 2012/09
Page Count: 144
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-963-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-962-7

Two accounts of men of the Legion during the First World War

The French Foreign Legion has earned its reputation in acts of heroism and aggression, in tenacious actions of resistance and in the spilling of much blood. It has always been recognised as a home for the dispossessed, criminals and soldiers of fortune, so among its ranks could be found hard men from a multitude of backgrounds and numerous nations. The Legion has been typified by the fierce loyalty of its men, its esprit de corps and its undying allegiance to the nation which had taken them under its protection. France has, however, always exacted a high price for its patronage. The Legion has habitually been asked to demonstrate that it is equal to its laurels and it has constantly been placed in the ‘post of honour’—that bloody ground where the fighting is hardest and death more certain. In the warfare of the Western Front during the Great War that likelihood of annihilation was multiplied by the lethal nature of the battleground and losses were horrendous for Legion regiments—sometimes as high as one man killed out of three or four engaged. Yet still men flocked to the Legion’s ranks. This book offers accounts of the experiences of two such men as they fought for the cause of France in the trenches. Each piece is comparatively short so they have been joined together in this special Leonaur good value edition.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

Somewhere near Aubigny, <br>
May 16. 1915.<br>
On Sunday morning. May 9th, we were— routed out at one o’clock and marched to the trenches, reaching the third line at sunrise, and at five o’clock our artillery increased its already very severe bombardment,—the continual rumble and vibration being beyond description. This lasted until ten o’clock and as soon as it stopped, Battalion C in our section left the trenches, charging with the bayonet.<br>
They carried the trenches with great loss. I understand the Germans were panic stricken by the bombardment and one of their battalions was buried as the trenches collapsed under our heavy artillery fire.<br>
Battalion A followed C and lost a great many; there are two Americans in A, one of them is O. K. while the other was shot twice, in the shoulder and in the leg.<br>
Our Battalion B left the trenches right after A under a heavy rifle and machine gun fire, the ground we crossed being well strewn with dead and dying of Battalions C and A. We charged across fields in a line of skirmishes, and I will never be able to satisfy myself how so many of us got through safely.<br>
When we reached the first line of German trenches we found them battered and destroyed by our bombardment. Soon after crossing them our first stop was in the shelter of a road. Here the good looking bandit, the fellow who hit me with the brick, got reckless and tried to survey the landscape; he was killed instantly by a bullet through the heart. No convulsive tossing of the arms one reads about or sees in the movies—he just sank down and it was all over. Soon after we left this position, the other bandit was shot through the leg. There was absolutely no ill feeling between us on account of our scrap.<br>
We then laid down on the ground and soon the Germans got our range; six men close to me were hit; so we started on again.<br>
The German artillery had opened on us, and the suspense of lying there and waiting to be hit is indescribable. The shells were bursting all around me and one rushed by so close that I actually think a chunk of solidified air hit me on the forehead; anyway, something bruised my forehead. I rushed over and got into the hole, it was five feet deep. I happened to be looking where four men were lying, when a shell blew the four of them to dust.<br>
In my letter from Lyon I mentioned three brothers from Argentina; they were inseparable even in death; they were killed side by side.<br>
We finally took the crest of a hill, it was dusk and we dug ourselves in.<br>
I shall never forget the picture displayed as I looked back across the field in the fading light. It is a nightmare: during the entire night the cries of the wounded rang out. I had a pleasant bedfellow,—a corporal and he lay in the trench, only two feet away. He actually fascinated me. I could not help looking at his brains which stuck out of the back of his neck, exactly like two horns. During the next day they gradually melted until at nightfall they had slid entirely off his neck. Grand, grand indeed, is this butchery they call war!<br>
During the night we were on the watch, and at times the fire from the enemy, aided by the German night-lights, was severe.<br>
As day broke Monday we were ready for the counter attack, which was sure to come and it came early and fierce. Their artillery shelled us in a most desperate manner, and men were killed and wounded in large numbers and very close to me; and again the suspense of expecting to be hit by a shell was horrible.<br>
Bavarian troops were opposite and they made a rush for us, and I am bound to acknowledge that no human beings could have shown more bravery and determination than they did: but our artillery was most effective, and we stood firm in our trenches and smeared them. Their counter attacks all failed and that night we still held the trenches we had dug.<br>
We were entirely out of water both Sunday and Monday, and as a consequence suffered very much.<br>
Early the next morning, before daybreak, reserves took our places and what was left of our regiment returned to the rear for reorganisation. laugh when I try to think of civilization. But with all we must admit it is a great world and I do not regret that I am here.