French Foreign Legion Traditions
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 greatest symbol of the French Foreign Legion. It is a sample illustration of bravery and determination of fighting to the death.
On April 30, 1863, a small Legion unit led by Captain Jean Danjou was protecting the French convoy as a part of the French intervention in Mexico. Near the Mexican village of Camerone, these 62 men and three officers were attacked and besieged by a force that have reached almost 2,000 Mexican infantry and cavalry. Captain Jean Danjou, his legionnaires and two officers held out in an old hacienda. When the Mexican commander demanded the surrender of Danjou and his legionnaires, Danjou replied: “We have munitions. We will not surrender” and swore to fight to the death. Nearly all were killed, including Cpt. Jean Danjou. The last five legionnaires had fought until their ammunition ran out, then decided to charge with fixed bayonets. When they did, the Mexican commander ordered his troops to cease fire and spared the surviving legionnaiers. He also allowed them to form an honor guard for the body of Captain Danjou.
Captain Jean Danjou had lost a hand in Algeria some years before and wore a wooden hand to replace it. His wooden hand was brought back to France. Today, the wooden hand of Captain Jean Danjou is paraded annually on April 30, Camerone Day.
The colors of tradition of the French Foreign Legion
Les couleurs de tradition. The colors of tradition of the French Foreign Legion are: The green and the red (Le vert et le rouge). These colors were used by the Swiss legionnaires of the Second Foreign Legion (2e Légion étrangère) in 1855 and were integrated a year later into the original Foreign Legion.
Mottoes of the French Foreign Legion
Devise de la Légion étrangère. The first long-used motto of the French Foreign Legion was: Valeur et Discipline (Valour and Discipline). 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 the Napoleon’s Second Empire (1852 – 1870). The motto 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 mottoe.
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 Motherland), 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 motto has been probably used since the 1850s, when the Second Foreign Legion (1855-56) solely composed of Swiss legionnaires was integrated into the original Foreign Legion. However, the motto “Valeur et Discipline” was predominately used until the 1920s, when it was replaced by the motto “Honneur et Fidélité”.
Legio Patria Nostra. Legion is our Motherland. The third and newest motto of the French Foreign Legion. This motto is also the most frequent motto in the current Legion. The Legio Patria Nostra motto has an unknown origin. Initially, it was used by legionnaires within the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment. At a later date, it became the main motto of the whole Legion. Nowadays, the motto “Legio Patria Nostra” is the best known motto of the Foreign Legion.
Seven-flame grenade of the French 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
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.
Le Képi blanc. Legionnaires wore a kepi with a khaki-color cover in Algeria and Morocco before the WWII. In some time, due to the frequent washing and sun shining, the covers became white. On July 14, 1939, the white kepis (khaki kepis with a removal white cover) are 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. In the present, 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.
La ceinture bleue. From the 1830s, coloured 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
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 colors refer to the Second Foreign Legion and its green-and-red uniforms of Swiss legionnaires.
La cravate verte. Green ties were worn by Foreign Legion officers in Algeria some years before the 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.
Le Béret vert. For the first time, the green beret is used by paratroopers of the 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1er BEP) in Indochina in 1948. It was integrated as a prescribed hat for all legionnaires in 1959. Until 1959, during military operations, legionnaires from 13e DBLE and 1er REC wore sometimes light-khaki berets.
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
Les Pionniers de la Légion étrangère. The Pioneers (or Sappers) are a traditional unit of the Foreign Legion. They wear large beards and the traditional Foreign Legion Pioneers uniform including leather aprons and axes. The sappers had been very common in the French Army during the Napoleonic Era, but were disappeared between 1870-1940, excluding pioneers of the Foreign Legion.
Some regiments of the Foreign Legion have its own group of pioneers (mostly one NCO and nine ordinary soldiers). The 1er RE as the Legion’s only regiment has traditionally the pioneer platoon, composed of at least 3 NCOs and 36 ordinary soldiers.
The parades of the Foreign Legion are open by this unit. It has to maintain the sappers tradition of “opening the way“, because of using their axes and shovels to clear enemy obstacles in the past.
Legionnaire’s Code of Honour
Le Code d’honneur du légionnaire. The Legionnaire’s Code of Honour 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 synchronized vocal presentation of the Code of Honour 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 honour 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
La musique de la Légion étrangère (La Musique principale up to 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 have. In 1962, the music band left the Foreign Legion headquarters based in Sidi bel Abbes, Algeria. The Music moved to Aubagne with the rest of 1er RE. Today, about 55 members of the Music travel and play around the world to present 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 parade.
Bastille Day Military Parade
Défilé du 14 juillet. During the Bastille Day Military Parade on 14 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 is also 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
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 a part of. The metropolitan French Army have used two chevrons. The green color of chevrons has been reserved for the Legion.
Chevrons of seniority of a legionnaire
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 the chevrons of seniority.
Creases of shirt
Les plis de chemise. During the 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, 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.