WITH THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION IN SYRIA (1928) – Written by a British former member of the French Foreign Legion using the alias John Harvey. Previously, Balladeer’s Blog examined the excellent 1895 short story collection titled Garrison Tales From Tonquin (Tonkin), a fascinatingly ahead of its time look at the French Foreign Legion in Vietnam during and after the Sino-French War. American James O’Neill wrote those powerful stories based on his own experiences in the Legion during the 1880s and 1890s.
This John Harvey work is nowhere near as literary as O’Neill’s forgotten writing. Harvey was a deserter who presents a fairly self-serving account of his time in the French Foreign Legion, largely depicting himself as a victim fooled into enlisting based on false promises by the recruiter. He doesn’t deal with larger issues the way O’Neill did.
John Harvey’s With The French Foreign Legion In Syria instead wallows in the tawdry and brutal side of the Legion. Instead of James O’Neill’s poetic, astonishingly prescient tales, this volume presents an ugly and sensationalistic take on the FFL. It would have stood in stark contrast to stories romanticizing the Legion as written by P.C. Wren and others. No movies of the time would have touched these violent, vulgar Peckinpah-style antics. Get ready for a look at some Legionnaires who would make The Wild Bunch look genteel.
Harvey provided a very readable, albeit bleak, account of the FFL’s First Cavalry Regiment, or 1er REC. That cavalry unit was headquartered at Sousse in Tunisia, rather than in Algeria, like most other French Foreign Legion units in North Africa. That provides an element of novelty for readers of Legion history, as does the Syrian setting during the Revolt of 1925-1927. Continue reading