Kelly of the Foreign Legion Letters of Légionnaire Russell A. Kelly
Kelly of the Foreign Legion
Russell A. Kelly
Dedicatedto the memory of that intrepid and valiant Frenchman,whose bravery, love of liberty, generosity, and friendshipwith Washington, made Americans, for all time,his grateful and devoted admirers--
LE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
|I. Voyage to Bordeaux--Enlistment||1|
|II. Training at Depot de Lyon||13|
|III. Off to the Front||33|
|IV. In the First Line Trenches||52|
|V. Removed to the Arras Secteur||78|
|VI. Battle of Artois; At La Targette and Neuville St. Vaast||85|
|VII. To the Rear for Recruiting||92|
|VIII. Supplementary--Battle of Artois--Souchez--Hill No. 119||104|
|X. La Légion Étrangère||131|
|Russell A. Kelly||Frontispiece|
|Official Postal Card for Use of Soldiers||34|
|French Houses Burned by Germans||60|
|Kniffin Yates Rockwell||68|
|John Earl Fike||124|
The first seven chapters of this book areletters received from Russell A. Kelly,age 21, volunteer in the Légion étrangère.The letters, many of which were published inthe New York Evening Sun, were sent to hisparents in New York and have been retainedin exactly their original form except for theomission of strictly personal matters.
The last communication from him was amilitary post card mailed June 15th, 1915.After the severe engagement around Souchezon June 16th in which the Second Regimentde Marche of the First Regiment of the Legionsuffered severely, he was officially recordedby the French Minister of War as“missing,” with the added statement that hisname would be carried on the list of missinguntil a search could be made in the internmentcamps of Germany.
Exhaustive efforts have been made to locatehim. All information that has been obtainedas to his fate is given in Chapter IX.
When it was learned in New York that hehad enlisted, he was informed that Germanyhad, prior to the war, objected to the ForeignLegion as a military body, and had stated thatLégionnaires who were not French citizenswould be considered as non-combatants andnot entitled to the rights of the other soldiersof the French army.
He was accordingly advised that in theevent of his capture to give no information asto his citizenship; but to communicate withAmbassador Gerard. He answered that hewould follow those instructions.
Chapter 2534 of the laws passed by CongressMarch 2nd, 1907, makes the taking ofan oath of allegiance to a foreign king or statean act of expatriation for an American citizen.But as Russell did not and was not required totake an oath of allegiance to France, he continued,after enlistment, to be a citizen of theUnited States of America.
Acknowledgment is made to the New YorkEvening Sun for permission to print thoseletters which appeared in that paper.
J. E. K.
New York, May, 1917.
On Election Day, Tuesday November3rd, 1914, we left New York, from theSouth Brooklyn basin, on “the good ship”Orcadian with a cargo of six hundred and fiftyhorses for the use of the French army. Therewere twenty-five men, including my chumLarney and myself, who had not previouslyworked on ships nor around horses, and eightexperienced horsemen. We twenty-five consistedof twelve Englishmen, seven Italians,two Greeks, one Spaniard, and three Americans,the third being a negro. The first daythe ship was out the English and Italiansstarted to fight, and this divided the party intotwo messes; at every meal thereafter therewere hostilities. The third day out we ran intovery rough weather, which continued duringthe following day: the vessel rolled and pitchedin a horrible fashion, and most of us sufferedseverely from sea sickness.
The food furnished to us was very poor.The first nine meals consisted of Irish stew,and I believe it was made on the first day andthereafter heated at meal time.
We went en masse to the chief steward anddemanded better food; there was a change, butit was no better, it was only different.
The horses were fed twice a day, the firsttime in the morning from half-past five to eighto’clock. We then had breakfast followed byhoisting feed from the hold, cleaning the stallsand similar duties, and then dinner. At threein the afternoon we gave the horses their secondfeeding, which took until nearly six o’clockwhen we had supper.
In rough weather life on the boat was fierce.Watering the horses as the boat rolled usuallyresulted in much of the water getting on themen, and the deck was always wet and slippery.
A cabin meant to hold twelve seamen heldthirty-three cattlemen, so conditions can berealized. The air was foul; in fact the wholeship was foul. During the last week I sleptin the lowest deck on the hay. We could noteat the food furnished, and even had it beenpalatable, it lacked quantity, so my appetitewas not appeased once during the trip. I lostabout fifteen pounds during the voyage. Icould wash only twice and shave once duringthe trip. English warships convoyed us forthe entire voyage, yet there was much uneasinessamong the men. We lost eighteenhorses en route.
On November 19th we were in that part ofthe Atlantic called the Bay of Biscay, and enteringthe broad Gironde river proceeded upit for about thirty miles to Pauillac, off whichwe laid two days, and then went up the riveranother thirty miles to Bordeaux where wedocked at seven in the morning of SaturdayNovember 21st. It was snowing and the citydid not seem real--it looked so quaint andpicturesque.
At ten o’clock we were dressed and wentashore and were stopped on the wharf by aCustoms official who looked in only one valiseand that was for tobacco and matches. Theparty then proceeded to a wine shop, wheresome bought wine, that they said was good, forfifteen centimes a glass. We soon learnedthat this was only three cents of Americanmoney.
We left our hand baggage at this shop andwent to the British consul, from whom we receivedour discharge. We then returned forthe bags and sought lodgings, which we obtainedon Rue Notre Dame.
Everything we see in the city is differentfrom anything my chum Larney or I have seenin America: the sidewalks and roadways arevery narrow; the buildings quaint in appearanceand generally only two stories in height.
We had a good supper although the portionsserved were small, but, as is usual, theygave three kinds of meat at the meal. Coffeewas served in a small bowl with heated milk,there being more milk than coffee. For dessertnuts were served. The rooms were withoutheat, and for light a small torch was used.
On Sunday Larney and I with the twoGreeks from the ship, went around town, oneof the Greeks being the only member whocould speak French.
Monday morning the four of us found thestation for recruiting for the army and madeapplication to join the Foreign Legion. Theofficers were agreeable but evinced no desireto urge us to enlist, and they informed us ofan old rule in the Legion, that an applicantwill not be examined or accepted until the dayfollowing his application. So we returnedTuesday morning at eight o’clock and tookthe physical examination, which was verythorough and the four of us were accepted.
Twenty other men who meant to join theregular army were examined at the same time,six of whom were rejected, some solely on accountof poor teeth.
At five o’clock in the afternoon of Tuesday,November 24th, 1914, we signed articleswhich made us soldiers in the Army of theRepublic of France, in the division la Légionétrangère, for service during the war.
We were not asked to take any oath of allegianceto France, nor to renounce our allegianceto the United States; all that wasrequired of us was to be over eighteen yearsof age and to pass the doctor.
We were given five francs (one dollar) asspending money, and a railroad ticket toLyon, where one of the depots of the ForeignLegion is located. It is to be our trainingstation for four or five months, they say,before we can go to the front. No escortwas furnished or effort made to see thatwe reported at Lyon and we learned it wasthe custom even before the war to trust recruitsfor the Legion to reach the depot oftheir own accord.
We had time to take a further look aroundBordeaux. We met soldiers in large numberseverywhere, and found they were of thesame belief as the people generally—that theGermans would be defeated in two months.All theatres were closed except some movingpicture shows, the receipts from them weregiven to the Red Cross fund.
We left Bordeaux Wednesday night atnine o’clock, riding second class. The carsare small and divided into compartments, eachholding eight persons. Most of the passengerswere soldiers returning to the front. Itwas difficult to sleep as the train stopped everyhalf hour and the people getting off and onmade considerable noise.
Thursday was a clear day, and the brightsunlight enabled us to enjoy the magnificentscenery. The train was climbing mountainsand going at a moderate pace. The constructionof this railroad was a great engineeringfeat. One minute we would be in a tunnel,then suddenly emerge onto a frail bridge overa magnificent valley.
Nearly all the land in sight was under cultivation,it being divided into small plots ofabout half an acre each. These plots were enclosedby stone walls three feet high and twofeet thick and the walls extended as far as theeye could see. The people were all veryfriendly but the only one of our party whocould talk to them was our Greek interpreter.
From our hotel in Bordeaux we brought aroast chicken, bread and wine, which we ateat noon. The people here roast a chickenwith its head on. We took