Top positive review
47 people found this helpful
Searing Memoir of Service in the French Foreign Legion
on 22 March 2005
When Simon Murray joined the Legion in early 1960, he was an English only-just-ex-public schoolboy (Bedford College) who had previously spent about eight months "before the mast" after leaving behind a --partly-- unrequited love affair. So far, so classic and in fact he even contrived a happy ending: after five years in the Legion, the lady married him and he became extremely wealthy in South-East Asia.
As for his time in the Legion, what stays with the reader is the sheer brutality of both the training staff (and other) NCO's, as well as that of many of the recruits, who ranged from the few --like Murray-- who might have been officers in their own armies, to the utterly barbaric or simply primitive. Murray had the advantage of fitness, youth and a command of French.
The Legion in Murray's day was in transition, from the old "joining to forget" army of yesteryear, to the highly trained rapid response commando Legion which began to emerge in the 1960's. There was also the difficulty of Algeria: Murray played a role, at ground level, in fighting the F.L.N.; after de Gaulle gave in to the F.L.N., many of the French and German Legionnaires joined the O.A.S. and tried to topple de Gaulle. Murray stayed aloof. He became corporal, then sergeant, was offered officer status but refused it (all officers must have or take French nationality).
The diaries are written well, grippingly so. At times, Murray's life is in peril in a very concrete sense. Yet amid the brutality and danger, the author never loses humanity, as when he is disgusted as several legionnaires machinegun a donkey. You can remove a young man from the Lansdowne Club, but...Murray never becomes just one of the pack.
This book is now a classic of military, adventure and autobiographical literature. Read it.