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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.
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on 22 March 2007
They don't make Englishmen like Simon Murray any more. Still a fresh-faced teen, he struggles with conflicting loyalties to family, country and the love of his life, and decides to join the French Foreign Legion. It is scarcely conceivable that a modern teenager would have the strength of character to do the same, but the 19-year old Murray soon finds himself in Algeria, facing a regime of brutality unimaginable by modern standards, as an underfunded, politically riven French army attempts to hold together its crumbling African empire. Then as now, the task proves difficult to say the least, as Murray and his multinational comrades sweat, dig and march over fly-blown hillsides, taking appalling disease, injury and terrible food in their stride.

Murray's story, expanded from diary entries, gives a fascinating account of a bygone age when young men were willing to accept terrible hardships for the sake of adventure, but he doesn't shy away from criticisms of French military policy or the many near-psychotic thugs that he found himself serving alongside. What is clear at the end is that the experience stood him in good stead - we would all benefit from such clarity of purpose and vision. The little details stand out - Murray's attachment to England, and the home comforts that he received in the post; the random acts of savage brutality perpetrated by his comrades; and the esprit-de-corps of the Legion, despite the grumblings and myriad nationalities of those who served in it. Far better written that any contemporary account by SAS veterans padding out their five minutes on the balcony, this deserves to remain in print for a very long time.
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on 19 March 2012
The real life story of a young man who joins the French Foreign Legion.

A fantastic book of high adventure and unbelievable hardship - by today's standards.

Simon Murray, a young man of 19 years joins the French Foreign Legion in early 1960. And what entails is the five tough years that he spends there and all that happens to him to turn the boy into a man.

The book is written in diary form, and once started is very difficult to put down. What would seem like torture to most is the accepted way of life to the Legionnaire. They truly are - a breed apart!

I read this book 20 years ago, and when I opened it again it was like meeting an old friend...

When you've turned the last page, you will want to sit back for a moment or two, stare into space and think WOW!
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on 28 May 2013
Really interesting tale of five tough years in the FL. Brutal training must make these soldiers among the best in the world, but I wonder how much easier it is now, forty years later
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on 3 May 2013
This is an exciting story splendidly written about life in the Legion in the 1960s, whether in training, fighting Arabs or entering shooting competitions and NCO selection tests. The author comes across as intelligent, tough and humane, and a good chap. He is honest enough to include episodes where he doesn't shine, such as being less than alert on sentry duty, and that's a cardinal military sin as he's quick to admit. One comes away from the book thinking of Dr Johnson's saying, 'Every man thinks meanly of himself for not being a soldier or for not serving at sea'. Hats off to those who do, especially in the Foreign Legion. Wonder how its changed in the decades since Simon Murray endured the NCOs as well as the Arabs? The author's writing skills are of a high order and make you want to keep turning the pages. It is really very good. Should appeal to most male readers, with or without military experience.
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on 17 April 2002
Once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down. This has to be one of the best I've ever read. What he went through in the French Foreign Legion is just incredible - from the training to real live fighting. it is presented as a diary of his time with them. A real insight to the life of a Legionnaire. A must read.
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on 27 July 2005
I have been very interested in the foreign legion for about two years and since then its been in the back of my mind wether to join up. Simon murrays book is a diary account from his service in the early 60's. The legion during this time went through a lot of changes which Simon lived through and thus also saw a lot of action. although im sure a lot has changed since then,It gives an excellent account of its severe, harsh brutality and extreme lifestyle. Definately worth reading. Ive ordered Evan McGormans book "Life in the French Foreign Legion " which is based on his service during the early 90's hopefully giving a more recent picture of the legion.
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on 23 December 2013
I always have wanted to join the army because of the adventure and the experience and skills you can learn nowhere else.
This book really convinced me to pause my studying career and just go for it, as I have now enlisted myself to become an N.C.O. at the para commando unit at my country's army. As it says in the book "To those that totter on the brink, my advice is go and climb the mountain of life, and do so while you are young and you will be happy at sixty." It is very well written, I almost felt if I was in Algeria myself. I read it in one sitting unable to put it down and go to sleep.
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As a man who has served as an infantry sergeant, though not in the FL, this memoir brought back a lot of memories of how the military used to be in terms of discipline and being messed around to build you up. Its a very enjoyable read without the self indulgence that you find in more recent memoirs. To discover at the end how well the author has done to now be a billionaire was quite incredible. I found this to be a good read, brought back waves of nostalgia for me and was very moving at times due to that.
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on 2 June 2013
I could not put this book down until it was finished and then I felt I wanted more. If you want to know how it felt to be a Legionnaire from a personal perspective and feel the monotony of the marches or the brutality of the NCO's this account gives you it all. I think the mental battle of the cold, wet, hunger and tiredness provides an amazing journey for the reader. Captivating and at times you feel the pain of the author and are willing him through. Great read for anyone.
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