Strelets French Foreign Legion on the March

The Legionary on the march is a cheerful person, even when encumbered with from sixty to eighty pounds of kit, besides a rifle and ammunition, and marching on his own feet under a temperature of 100 degrees in the shade…

Lost Sheep by Vere Dawson Shortt

Well, I don’t know about being cheerful on a forced desert march, but it has been fun returning to the Foreign Legion with my brush again. One of the earliest 1/72 sets I painted was a few figures from Esci’s iconic 1987 set, one of which became the face of this blog’s avatar. A few years ago, I tackled 28mm metal versions from Avatar Designs, purchasing their “March or Die” set.

Strelets new “French Foreign Legion: Desert Patrol” box includes 6 camel-mounted legionnaires and 8 marching figures. I’m sharing the latter in this post and will follow up with the camel riders in a following post.

Each of the eight marching men is in a unique pose:

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This next figure is carrying a Lewis machine gun. Not manufactured until just before WWI, this is something of an anachronism with this uniform which, according to Plastic Soldier Review, can be best dated to no later than 1912. As they concede however, “you can find the Legion using this weapon in films”, and so fits the cinematic vibe of this set.

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All in all, a lovely set of figures by Strelets. My criticism as a figure painter would be that the detail is very subtle in parts and I like crisper detail. My other criticism is that for a force well known for its brutal marches through hostile desert (march or die!), 8 isn’t enough – I want more!

The remaining 6 camel-mounted legionnaires will follow in my next post, until then here’s Laurel and Hardy on the march to ‘Fort Arid’ in their classic Foreign Legion spoof Beau Hunks.


In one way, the Legionary is like an animal of the jungle. Put him in barracks with their monotony and he becomes surly and dangerous to himself and others, place him in his proper surrounding – the march, or battlefield – and he becomes what he is by nature, the soldier par excellence.

Lost Sheep by Vere Dawson Shortt

Follow that Camel!

I know it’s ‘hump day’, but what’s this? Have I ditched horses for dromedaries?

Yes, I have! For the time being, anyway. This is my first attempt at painting camels and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. These ‘ships of the desert’ are courtesy of Strelets new “French Foreign Legion: Desert Patrol” release. I think Strelets’ camels are well sculpted, the proportions (so far as I my limited knowledge of dromedaries goes) seem perfectly good. Plastic Soldier Review, however, are – shall we say – less than impressed with their gait!

It features 8 walking legionnaires and 6 mounted camel riders dressed in the classic late 19th / early 20th century uniform familiar to us from the movies.

The concept of camel-mounted legionnaires from the 1890s/1900s is entirely fanciful according to Plastic Soldier Review who scoff that “no legionnaire ever patrolled while riding a camel until after 1945“, recommending that we find some mules for the riders and use the camels as baggage carriers, or even throw them away. Not me!

There are three different camel poses for the 6 riders to choose from:

France did later create companies of camel cavalry within their North African army (but not in the Legion). These were known as Compagnies Méharistes Sahariennes“, whose ranks were filled by local Arab and Berber tribesmen. These same camels turn up in other Strelets sets; the British, Turkish and Australian Camel Corps sets which each include 3 nice additional poses including a sitting camel. My three poses also reappear in another newly released set “Rif Rebellion“. Perhaps their Arabic riders might also pass for some Méharistes?

With nothing factual to go on, I’ve painted their tassled drapes in dark red rather than the blue I’ve seen used by Méharistes, just to give my figures a little extra colour. The saddle is a leather cover draped over a wooden seat.

Like me, PSR at least appreciate the theatricality and romance of the set stating that “if you want to recreate movies like Beau Geste (1939) or March or Die (1977) then this set is great” – and I say ‘who wouldn’t want to do that’? The legionnaire figures themselves are in progress and I’ll share the rest of my hot and thirsty ‘desert patrol’ when they’re finally done.


For all things French Foreign Legion related, you could do a lot worse than head on over to the fabulous Mon Legionnaire blog which has lots on La Legion in wargaming, in history, and it’s portrayal in art and popular culture.

French Foreign Legion Update #3: Finished!

My Artizan Designs set of 24 French Foreign Legion figures is now completed! The final 8 figures included an officer in a beige tropical-style uniform with blue puttees looking as though he’s about to shoot a legionnaire who has refused to march any further! I suspect that my painting approach doesn’t necessarily get the very best out of this scale of figure, but I’m still nonetheless quite satisfied with these final figures. I’ve always wanted to produce some larger scale foreign legion troops, so this set has fulfilled that wish very nicely.

Ultimately, I’m a 1/72 scale man, I think. It’s my first love and so it will probably be back to the little guys in plastic for my next work, I think.

Aside from painting these Foreign Legion chaps, I recently had planned a visit out to a military museum but with a last minute change of plan found myself on a very pleasant visit this weekend to Belton House in Lincolnshire. For centuries this was the seat of the wealthy Brownlow and Cust family. Even here I found a handful of military-related nuggets to feed my interest. There was once a WWI machine gun corps based in the grounds and I scooped up some postcards of this. Also on display was a Grenadier Guards officer uniform and I spied a painting of King Edward VIII in the uniform of a colonel of an Indian regiment, Jacob’s Horse. All of which nicely gives a hint as to the direction of my next project…

Anyway, for now I’m presenting my “March or Die!” set of French Foreign Legionnaires:

French Foreign Legion Update #2

My daughter’s been poorly all week with an infection, so I’ve been at home with her doing far more caring than painting. In my quiet moments, however, I have been reflecting on the impact that the French Foreign Legion have had on popular culture.

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BBC TV’s 1982 version of Beau Geste. This scene was filmed within Nothe Fort, a museum in Weymouth which I visited just a couple of years ago.

I have a DVD copy of the BBC TV series on Beau Geste made in 1982 and starring Benedict Taylor, which I greatly enjoyed seeing when I was a young boy. Even if the desert scenes look suspiciously like they were filmed in a disused quarry in southern England rather than the scorched Saharan sands, it mattered not one bit with me. The uniforms were accurate and as a depiction of the regiment it was very convincing. It wasn’t the first interpretation on-screen. Three films have been made on the story of Beau Geste; 1926 (a silent movie), in 1939 (starring Gary Cooper) and in 1966. In 1929, even the great thespian Laurence Olivier played the eponymous role in a stage version which enjoyed only a limited run.

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The 1926 silent film version of Beau Geste.

The Beau Geste tale has been parodied by many over the years, notably the “Carry On” films and in 1931 by Laurel and Hardy in “Beau Hunks” (with Jean Harlow as the woman they all joined ‘to forget’) and later again in a their remake called The Flying Deuces.

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Laurel and Hardy in The Flying Deuces

Aside from the retelling of the story of Beau Geste, and the 1977 movie “March or Die” which I’ve previously mentioned in this blog,  La Legion has been the subject of a spoof in a long-running comic strip in the UK called “The adventures of Legionnaire Beau Peep”. The strip sends up many of the well-known motifs that appeared in Beau Geste. In a twist on the common theme of joining the legion to forget a lost love, Beau Peep has apparently joined the legion to escape his somewhat intimidating wife!

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Now: my figures. I’ve noticed that these metal figures seem to reflect the light in photographs more than plastic figures, so you’ll have to believe me when I say they are much more matt looking in reality. My Saharan desert sand has come through the post and I think it looks rather good. Compared to the often hideously complexity of, let’s say Napoleonic hussars, painting my French Foreign Legionnaires is a fairly quick process. One big blue greatcoat, a white covered kepi and white trousers makes for about 90% of the figure. Consequently, I find I am already tackling the final 8 of the 24 figures in the Artizan designs set.

Unfortunately,  just as my daughter seems to be better, it’s now my wife that seems to have picked up the infection! I can’t cope with it any more. It’s enough to make me run off and join the Foreign Legion…

 

French Foreign Legion Update #1: Nous sommes des légionnaires!

“If the Legion doesn’t get you, the desert will. If the desert doesn’t, the Arabs will. And if the Arabs don’t, then I will. I don’t know which is worse.” Major Foster in the 1977 movie ‘March or Die’.

I’d spent some free time in the day yesterday painting my Artizan legionnaires, which are progressing nicely. After everyone had gone to bed, I decided to watch a movie and what could be more appropriate than the 1977 movie on the French Foreign Legion “March or Die!”?

March or Die Legionnaires (1)

Digging out my DVD copy, I sat down and watched it into the small hours. As with other narratives on the FFL, the familiar motifs were there; the brutality and loneliness; the wide expanse of desert sands; a band of desperate social outcasts drawn together by ‘la legion’; and of course the ever-present menace of the fierce Tuareg tribes.

The Legion marching song was a common musical presence in the film, and is something that has been going through my head ever since receiving the figures through the post. All together now…

Tiens, voilà du boudin, voilà du boudin, voilà du boudin
Pour les Alsaciens, les Suisses et les Lorrains.
Pour les Belges, y en a plus, pour les Belges, y en a plus,
Ce sont des tireurs au cul. (bis)

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Click to hear the marching song scene from the film “March or Die”.

March or Die, as with Beau Geste, is a good yarn rather than a work of art. Nevertheless, it was hugely enjoyable to watch, the scenery was terrific and it was an inspiration to keep me going with painting those figures.

Ah, the figures. I spend a probably unhealthy amount of time wondering whether my painting technique for 28mm figures is a successful one. I’m sure there are better or more effective ways of painting at this scale. Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased with them, but I sense that I could make them look better with more 28mm experience. I’m still experimenting and finding out new things as I go along at this scale but the first batch of legionnaires are virtually done. I’m now just waiting for some desert-type scenic sand to come through the post so that these chaps will be suitably Saharan.

March or Die!

I am Sgt. Markoff. I make soldiers out of scum like you, and I don’t do it gently. You’re the sloppiest looking lot I’ve ever seen. It’s up to me to prevent you from becoming a disgrace to the regiment. And I will prevent that if I have to kill half of you with work. But the half that lives will be soldiers – I promise you! (Beau Geste film of 1939)

Announcing a new project in Suburban Militarism; the French Foreign Legion!

Being larger figures than my more usual 20mm plastics, these 28mm metal figures from Artizan Designs have the classic look of blue greatcoats and white cloth-covered kepi, perfect for keeping that hot desert sun off their heads. The figures came at a discount for buying a set of 24, which included numerous poses, a bugler and three command figures.

I mostly seem to paint Napoleonic figures and I’m a member of the Victorian Military Society dedicated to the study of the British army from that era. So, why on earth have I opted to paint “la legion etrangere”?

As so often, it’s a case of indulging a childhood passion. The exotic tale of Beau Geste was to blame. The book depicted the beautiful wilderness of the Sahara desert; the brave and fierce Tuareg tribesmen; the brutal sadism of Sergeant Lejuane; an entire regiment of lost social outcasts; and included a beguiling scene of the eerily deserted Fort Zanderneuf with its garrison of dead legionnaires still at their posts. My boyhood interest led to the purchase of some Britains Deetail French Foreign Legion figures back in the 1980s, but my meagre pocket-money wouldn’t stretch to very many unfortunately!

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Britains Deetail range of French Foreign Legion

So in buying these figures I’m making good on a promise to myself to buy lots more when I was older. With 24 of these larger scale figures to paint, I’m intending to tackle small groups at a time. I’m no expert in painting at this scale but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ll be dipping into other projects in between tackling this one. Progress reports will be posted from time to time throughout the year but as you can see, I’ve already made a start!

Vive la legion etrangere!