French Foreign Legion Traditions

 

Battle of Camerone and the hand of Captain Danjou

Battle of Camerone and the hand of Captain Jean Danjou

Bataille de Camerone et la main du capitaine Danjou. The Battle of Camerone is the most significant event in the French Foreign Legion’s history. It became a symbol of bravery and determination of fighting to the death. The battle occurred in Mexico on April 30, 1863. A Legion company, consisting of 3 officers and 62 legionnaires led by Captain Jean Danjou, faced around 2,000 Mexicans. Captain Danjou and his men had refused to surrender and were fighting until their ammunition ran out. At the end of the battle, only 3 combat-ready legionnaires left.

To commemorate this fundamental event, an annual official festivity has been held by the Legion since 1931, called Camerone Day. During this event, the wooden hand of Captain Danjou (he lost his left hand in Algeria in the 1850s) is paraded in public, usually carrying by a selected officer or legionnaire (both should have been well-respected veterans or very important persons). To carry the wooden hand of Captain Danjou on Camerone Day is seen as the most privileged act in the Legion career of those men.

See more details of this significant action: Battle of Camerone

 

The traditional colors of the French Foreign Legion

Colors of the Foreign Legion
Colors of the Foreign Legion on the fanion of 1er BEP (later 1er REP).

Les couleurs de tradition. The colors of tradition of the French Foreign Legion are: green and red (Le vert et le rouge). The exact origins of adopting those colors by the Legion are officially unknown. The current thesis attributes the colors’ origins to the green uniform of Swiss legionnaires from the 2nd Foreign Legion (2e Légion étrangère, nicknamed as Swiss Legion, 1855-56). The Swiss Legion merged with the original one in 1856 and the green uniform was forbiden in 1859. However, the uniform was green, not a green-red.

The private thesis of the Foreign Legion Info website’s admin from late 2018 is that we should search the origins of the green & red colors of the Foreign Legion in the campaign medal issued by then French emperor Napoleon III in 1863 for soldiers fighting in Mexico (1862-67). The fated campaign for the Legion, with its Battle of Camerone.

 

Mottoes of the French Foreign Legion

Devise de la Légion étrangère. There have been three main mottoes within the Foreign Legion since its creation to summarize the general motivation of this exceptional unit.

Valeur et Discipline. Valor and Discipline. The first long-used motto of the French Foreign Legion. The motto originated from the French Army of the First Empire (1804 – 1814). The Foreign Legion had used it since December 1848, while being part of the French Army of Napoleon III‘s Second Republic (1848 – 1851). It was emblazoned on the Legion’s regimental flags. The motto disappeared from the flags in 1920 and lost its importance during the Second World War. Since the end of the First Indochina War (1946 – 1954) the Legion has ceased to use the motto.

12e REI insignia - Valour and Discipline
The insignia of 12e REI (created in 1939) with the motto Valeur – Discipline.

 

Honneur et Fidélité. Honor and Fidelity. The second long-used motto of the French Foreign Legion. Unlike the rest of the French Army using the motto Honneur et Patrie (Honor and Fatherland) on their regimental flags, the Foreign Legion uses the motto Honneur et Fidélité. The motto originated from the motto of the Régiment de Diesbach (1721-1806), the Swiss unit within the French Imperial Army.

The current thesis says that the motto has probably been used within the Legion since the 1850s, when the 2nd Foreign Legion (Swiss Legion) was integrated into the original Foreign Legion. However, the motto Valeur et Discipline was predominately used until the 1920s, even on regimental flags. In 1920, an issued ministry decree prescribed the motto Honneur et Fidélité to appear on all regimental flags of the Legion, both current and future. The motto has been emblazoned on them since than.

Foreign Legion - Honor and Fidelity
The flag of 1er RE with the motto Honneur et Fidélité. In 1921, the 1er RE’s regimental flag was the very first flag with this motto emblazoned on.

 

Legio Patria Nostra. The Legion is our Fatherland. The third and also the newest motto of the French Foreign Legion. Currently the most frequent motto in the Legion. Officially, the Legio Patria Nostra motto has an unknown origin. Initially, the motto was used by legionnaires within the 3e REI in the 1920s. After the war in Indochina (1946-54), it became the main motto of the whole Legion. Nowadays, the Legio Patria Nostra motto is the best known motto of the Foreign Legion outside the institution.

The private thesis of the Foreign Legion Info website’s admin is that we should search the origins of the motto in the large reorganization of the Legion in 1920-21. At the time, Lt Colonel Paul-Frédéric Rollet, the then commander of the 3e RE and the future Father of the Legion made an effort to return discipline and esprit de corps into the institution (considerably affected by WWI), to unite all legionnaires into a strong family with its own identity and character. Such motto perfectly meets those ideas.

3 REI - 3REI - 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment - 3rd REI - Legion - Morocco - 3e REI insignia 1928
The insignia of 3e REI designed in 1928. It bears the Legio Patria Nostra motto.
3e REI insignia - Legio patria nostra
The current insignia of the 3e REI with the motto.

 

Seven-flame grenade of the French Foreign Legion

Seven-flame grenade of the Foreign Legion

La grenade à sept flammes. Seven-flame grenade. The official symbol of the Foreign Legion. In 1873, the Foreign Regiment (Régiment étranger) obtained a grenade with flames as a new attribute. In the 1930s, the attribute has already have a form we know today: seven flames spreading of the grenade. As an typical attribute of the Legion, two flames are always directed downwards, in contrast with the rest of the French Army.

 

Buttons of the French Foreign Legion

Buttons of the Foreign Legion

Les boutons. The buttons are very distinctive elements of the Legion. The French Foreign Legion was created by a royal ordinance issued by King Louis Philippe on March 10, 1831. In this ordinance, in Article 3, there is a sentence: “The buttons will be yellow and will carry the words Légion étrangère“. The buttons are still yellow (gold) and carry these words.

 

White kepi of the French Foreign Legion

White kepi of the Foreign Legion

Le Képi blanc. Legionnaires wore a kepi with a khaki-color cover in Algeria and Morocco before WWII. In some time, due to the frequent washing and sun shining, the covers became white. In Paris on July 14, 1939, the white kepis (khaki kepis with a removal white cover) were officially used by legionnaires in the parade for the first time. A kepi with the white cover has been integrated as a prescribed cap for the Legion in 1959. However, a khaki cover for kepi was still used during an instruction until the 1970s. Today, legionnaires used only white (non-covered) kepis.

The Legion is the only unit of the French Army using the White kepi. The White kepi is worn by ordinary legionnaires for a guard duty, military ceremonies or as part of their walking out (dress or combat) uniform. Senior corporals (Caporal-chefs) with more than 15 years of service and a CT1 (Certificat technique de 1 degree) qualification, non-commissioned officers and officers wear a black kepi.

 

Blue sash of the French Foreign Legion

Blue sash of the Foreign Legion

La ceinture bleue. From the 1830s, colored sashes were worn by French soldiers under the clothes as a protection against intestinal disorders and to keep soldiers warm during the cold nights in Africa. After 1862, it became rather a decorative attribute of troops from the French colonial Army of Africa. In 1882, the Foreign Legion officially obtained a blue sash. Today, the blue sash is part of the Foreign Legion Parade Dress Uniform. It has 4,20 metres in length and 40 centimetres in width.

 

Epaulettes of tradition of the French Foreign Legion

Green beret of the Foreign Legion

Les épaulettes de tradition. They were used for the first time in 1868. Since 1946, they have been an integrated part of the Parade dress uniform within the French Army. The Foreign Legion uses epaulettes in green and red colors, the official colors of the Legion.

 

Green (neck)tie of the French Foreign Legion

Green tie of the Foreign Legion

La cravate verte. Green ties were worn by Foreign Legion officers in Algeria some years before WWII. In 1946, a green tie has became an inseparable part of the Parade Dress Uniform. Today, the Legion is the only unit of the French Army using the green (neck)tie.

 

Green beret of the French Foreign Legion

Green beret of the Foreign Legion

Le Béret vert. For the first time, the green beret was used by paratroopers of the 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1er BEP) in Indochina in 1948. It was integrated as a prescribed headgear for all legionnaires in 1959. Until 1959, during military operations, legionnaires from 13e DBLE wore khaki berets (to keep traditions from the Norwegian Campaign of WWII), while the men from 1er REC wore light-khaki berets (to keep traditions of armored cavalry units from French Indochina).

Within the French Army, the Legion remains the only unit using the green beret (excluding the French Naval commandos, but they wear their insignia on the left side of a beret).

 

Pioneers of the French Foreign Legion

Pioneers of the Foreign Legion

Les Pionniers de la Légion étrangère. The Pioneers (or Sappers) are a popular, traditional unit of the Foreign Legion. They wear large beards and the traditional Foreign Legion Pioneers uniform, including leather aprons and axes. The pioneers-sappers had been very common in the French Army during the Napoleonic Era, but disappeared between 1870-1940, excluding the Pioneers of the Foreign Legion. There were several pioneer companies established within the Legion in North Africa in the 1920s.

Today, some regiments of the Foreign Legion keep their own group of pioneers (mostly one NCO and 9 legionnaires). The 1er RE is the Legion’s only regiment with its own traditional pioneer platoon, composed of at least 3 NCOs and 36 ordinary legionnaires.

In late April 1931, a platoon of Pioneers opened a parade for the very first time in modern history, during the 100th anniversary of the Foreign Legion celebrations. Even nowadays, the parades of the Foreign Legion are open by this unit. This practice maintains the sappers tradition of opening the way, because of using their axes and shovels to clear enemy obstacles in the past.

Within the French Army, the Legion remains the only unit keeping the tradition of old-fashioned, bearded pioneers-sappers.

 

Foreign Legion Legionnaire’s Code of Honor

Le Code d’honneur du légionnaire. The Legionnaire’s Code of Honor (a military oath) was established in 1980s and comprises seven articles. The Remise Képi blanc (Obtaining the White kepi) at the end of the first four weeks of the Legion’s four-month-long basic training is always ended up by a synchronized vocal presentation of the Code of Honor by new legionnaires.

  Code d’honneur du légionnaire Legionnaire’s Code of Honour
Art. 1 Légionnaire, tu es un volontaire, servant la France avec honneur et fidélité. Legionnaire, you are a volunteer serving France with honor and fidelity.
Art. 2 Chaque légionnaire est ton frère d’armes, quelle que soit sa nationalité, sa race ou sa religion. Tu lui manifestes toujours la solidarité étroite qui doit unir les membres d’une même famille. Each legionnaire is your brother in arms whatever his nationality, his race or his religion might be. You show him the same close solidarity that links the members of the same family.
Art. 3 Respectueux des traditions, attaché à tes chefs, la discipline et la camaraderie sont ta force, le courage et la loyauté tes vertus. Respect for traditions, devotion to your leaders, discipline and comradeship are your strengths, courage and loyalty your virtues.
Art. 4 Fier de ton état de légionnaire, tu le montres dans ta tenue toujours élégante, ton comportement toujours digne mais modeste, ton casernement toujours net. Proud of your status as legionnaire, you display this in your always impeccable uniform, your always dignified but modest behaviour, and your clean living quarters.
Art. 5 Soldat d’élite, tu t’entraînes avec rigueur, tu entretiens ton arme comme ton bien le plus précieux, tu as le souci constant de ta forme physique. An elite soldier, you train rigorously, you maintain your weapon as your most precious possession, and you take constant care of your physical form.
Art. 6 La mission est sacrée, tu l’exécutes jusqu’au bout et si besoin, en opérations, au péril de ta vie. The mission is sacred, you carry it out until the end and, if necessary in the field, at the risk of your life.
Art. 7 Au combat, tu agis sans passion et sans haine, tu respectes les ennemis vaincus, tu n’abandonnes jamais ni tes morts, ni tes blessés, ni tes armes. In combat, you act without passion and without hate, you respect defeated enemies, and you never abandon your dead, your wounded, or your arms.

 

Music of the Foreign Legion

Music band of the Foreign Legion

La musique de la Légion étrangère (La Musique principale until 1999). The Music of the Foreign Legion. It is a traditional part and a symbol of the Foreign Legion. It was established in 1832. The Music is composed exclusively of legionnaires, which have finished the same four-month-long basic training as the rest of the Legion. In 1962, the music band left the Foreign Legion headquarters based in Sidi bel Abbes, Algeria. The Music moved to Aubagne with the 1er RE. Today, about 55 members of the Music travel and play around the world to promote the Foreign Legion.

 

Marching step of the French Foreign Legion

Le pas Légion. The Foreign Legion has an 88-step-per-minute marching speed, in comparison to the 120-step-per-minute speed of other French Army units. This speed inherited from the traditional marching speed of the Regiment Hohenlohe (1815 – 1831, the predecessor to the Foreign Legion). Because of its marching speed, the Foreign Legion is always the last unit marching in any joint parade of the French Army.

 

Bastille Day Military Parade

Bastille Day Military Parade of the Foreign Legion

Défilé du 14 juillet. During the Bastille Day Military Parade on 14th July (the French National Day), the Foreign Legion is always the last marching unit because of its slower marching speed. The Foreign Legion is also the only unit marching with its own music band. The Foreign Legion would also be the only unit which do not split up in front of the French president’s grandstand. And finally, the Foreign Legion is the only unit of the French Army leaded by a non-commissioned officer (from the Pioneer platoon) during Bastille Day Military Parade.

 

Green chevrons of the French Foreign Legion

Green chevrons of the Foreign Legion

Les trois chevrons verts de la Légion étrangère. Three green chevrons represent the Foreign Legion. Three chevrons were used by units of the French Army of Africa (Armée d’Afrique), the Legion was part of it. The metropolitan French Army have used two chevrons. The green color of chevrons has been reserved for the Legion.

 

Chevrons of seniority in the French Foreign Legion

Chevrons of seniority of the Foreign Legion

Les chevrons d’ancienneté. Each gold chevron represents five years of service passed in the Legion. Ordinary legionnaires and non-commissioned officers wear them on parade uniforms. Today, the Foreign Legion is the only unit of the French Army having obtained the right to use unlimited number of the chevrons of seniority (the rest of the French Army could bear only 4 chevrons, according to 2015).

 

Creases of shirt of the French Foreign Legion

Creases of shirt of the Foreign Legion

Les plis de chemise. During WWII, ironing the shirt creases distinguished the Foreign Legion from another French troops. Until June 1972, shirt creases of Parade dress or Walking out dress uniforms were not required in every regiment of the Legion. Also, the number and width of creases were not equal everywhere. Since 1972, the regiments of the Legion accepted the same rules for ironing creases. Since 1984, within the French Army, the Foreign Legion has been the only unit ironing shirt creases (according to 2015).

 

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The page was updated on: July 18, 2019

 

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