L53 The Story of the French Foreign Legion
The French Foreign Legion was founded by a Royal Ordinance, written on a small piece of officialFrench War Office notepaper dated March 9th, 1831, and signed by the then reigning monarch ofFrance, Louis-Philippe. He had been on the throne for barely eight months when he authorized thismeasure, which was as much a product of necessity as of careful planning, although there may bedivided views on this.
The reasons for forming the French Foreign Legion were probably twofold. In the first place themen of the disbanded royal bodyguard and the Regiment of Hohenlohe, suddenly turned loose onto the street of a capital seething with unrest, unemployed and perhaps disgruntled at their abruptdismissal, were a potentially dangerous element. They were trained to the use of arms, and shouldthey become tools of the politically ambitious or discontented they would present a distinctmenace to the new regime, not yet too firmly established and sure of itself.
For some time Paris had been swarming with countless other discharged foreign soldiers who hadserved in the French army at various times under the Empire and the Republic, many of whomwere in needy circumstances and open to suggestion, whilst others were openly looking for troubleand always ready to take part in any disturbance. It was clearly both expedient and desirable toremove these dangers as far away from the capital as possible.
Next, the Algerian adventure had begun, and it appeared that this might prove expensive in lives.The more Frenchmen killed in North Africa, the less popular the government at home would be, soif foreign cannon fodder was available so much the better. The Algerian landing had been viewedwith mixed feelings in a politically divided France, but there does not seem to have been, anymarked indication on the part of the politicians that they were unanimous that the occupationshould be abruptly terminated; most were wary and many apprehensive as to how the Algerianbusiness would turn out.
The formation of a foreign legion seemed therefore to be an ideal method of killing these two birdswith one stone. Once the conditions were made clear there does not seem o have been any seriousopposition.
Marshal Soult was reputed to be the man behind the scheme both for removing and using the unemployed foreign ex-soldiers. He could not have failed to recognize, once they were formed into disciplined units, how useful they would be, both for garrison duty and for active operations in Algeria, nor the fact that if their casualties were heavy or their conditions not of the best, there would be no embarrassing reaction for agitation in France on their behalf.
The Royal Ordinance decreed that there should be a legion formed foreigners for service outside France, which was to be called the 'Foreign Legion' and it was to be part of the French army and under the control of the War Minister. It laid down that as far as possible companies should be composed of men of the same nationality or who spoke a common language. Algeria was nonspecifically mentioned but as it was the only scrap of foreign territory of any size possessed by France at that moment, there was no doubt as to the meaning of the phrase 'outside France'.
In the anxiety to get dubious, restless characters out of the country no questions were asked as to nationality, previous record or history, and no proof of identity was required. The name and particulars given by the recruit were accepted at face value and many gave noms de guerre, for understandable reasons. Thus the practice began, and the tradition started of 'asking no questions’. This tradition of guaranteeing anonymity began to develop quickly, although it was not until later that it was carried to the extreme of denying all knowledge of any individuals who were in its ranks and of refusing point blank to answer questions or to allow any outside contact with the legionnaires