Photo by David Mark

The French Foreign Legion (Légion étrangère) has always been shrouded in mystery, romance and legend. One of the surprises, when we bought our house in Castelnaudary, was that one of our neighbours would be the 4th Regiment of the Legion!

The 4th Regiment moved from Corsica, in 1976, to Castelnaudary and this is where new recruits are trained. The legionnaires generally keep a low profile, except for two days in the year for specific parades. One takes place on the 13th July which is the day before La Fête Nationale and the other is held on the 30th April. The April date is held to commemorate a famous battle in Mexico, the Battle of Camerone, which took place in 1863.

In a nutshell, 62 legionnaires were fighting against 2,000 Mexican troops. The battle lasted for 12 hours until there were only two legionnaires left. They were given an honourable surrender and it was through this outcome that the Legion won its reputation for tenacity, courage and being fearless.

The French Foreign Legion has been featured in many books and films. Recruits were often portrayed as having broken hearts or being criminals. The Legion is the only branch of the French army in which non-nationals can enlist.

Here some random facts about the Legion that I have discovered:

1. Volunteers are aged 17 – 40

2. Nine out of 10 volunteers are not French, about 150 nationalities are represented

3. All orders are given in French

4. Intensive French lessons are provided

5. Legionnaires are sent to some of the most hostile environments in the world with plenty of ‘action’

6. There is a heavy drinking culture

7. When recruits complete their training, they are presented with the ‘Képi blanc’ or white cap

I found this clip, on YouTube, which is actually quite interesting and informative as long as you can cope with the narrator’s accent…

Although the 4th Regiment of the Legion is based five minutes from where we live, we don’t see much of the recruits but there is an annual open day. We haven’t been yet but it’s on our list!