The French Foreign Legion is probably the most famous military unit in the world, but most people's image of the Legion is firmly routed in a world of isolated desert forts that has long since disappeared (as seen in Beau Geste or, less realistically, Carry on Follow that Camel).
Lochrie's autobiography provides a much more recent view of life in the Legion, from 1983 until 1994. This was an important period in the history of the Legion, which for the first time became an official part of the French armed forces. This change had a bigger impact on the Legion than one might expect - prior to that change in status the Legion had been used to fulfil France's obligations to her former colonies in Africa. After the change it was available for UN operations, and so took part in the first Gulf War and in peace keeping operations in Bosnia.
This change in status gives a very different feel to the two halves of the book. We start with Lochrie's background, the reasons he joined the legion, his selection and training and early engagements, mostly in Chad.
The second section sees Lochrie involved in much larger scale actions, starting with Operation Desert Storm and then moving on to UN peace keeping operations in Bosnia.
Both sections are interesting. We get a fascinating window into the life of the Legion, in particular into the selection process that thins out the large number of potential recruits and the training the follows.
The section on Bosnia is perhaps the most interesting and certainly the most thought-provoking. Lochrie took part in UN efforts to keep Sarejavo airport open for relief flights, a harrowing experience that saw the Legion between the two warring factions, often under fire, and unable to fight. While the Serbs emerge as the main villains of the piece, the Bosnian Muslims, journalists, western politicians (un-named) and even other UN forces all come in for criticism. We also get a vivid picture of the different conditions endured by front line peacekeepers and their more fortunate colleagues.
This is a truly fascinating account of eleven years spent in the French Foreign Legion, refreshingly free of gung-ho attitudes, and should be of value to anyone with an interest in either the Legion or the conflict in Bosnia.
2: Bygone Days
3: Into the Unknown
4: Basic Instruction
5: The 2ème REP
6: La Première Compagnie
7: Normality, Legion Style
8: Collective Power
9: Commando Training
10: New Responsibilities
11: The Day When All of our Lives Changed
12: Operation Desert Storm
13: A Touch of Normality
14: Why are We Here and What are We Doing?
15: Our Darkest Hour
16: My Personal Shame
17: Life Continues
18: A Little Bit of History
Author: Alex Lochrie
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military