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Everything you need to know about the French Foreign Legion

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Everything you need to know about the French Foreign Legion
A member of the French Foreign Legion with a tattoo of the regimental motto Marche ou Creve (march or die). Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP

Probably one of the most famous army units in the world, the French Foreign Legion is still going strong almost 200 years after its foundation, and is now recruiting.


The Legion has a fearsome reputation, partly due to its famously brutal training and also because of its reputation over the years as the place that dodgy characters can run away to, in order to escape a shady past or forget about a doomed love affair.


And the modern Legion seems to enjoy this reputation, as evidenced by this advert playing on the theme of 'join the legion to forget' - the below tweet from the Legion's official recruitment account makes reference to the Will Smith - Chris Rock punch-up at the Oscars and says: "Whether you are French or foreign, the Legion allows you to forget about yourself and helps you channel your energy into a profession of honour and commitment."


If you've ever watched any major French military parades you will certainly have noticed the Pioneer unit of the Legion - they're the ones who sport beards, white gloves and buffalo leather aprons and carry axes (the axes are for use on trees, not people).

Another way to spot a Legionnaire is to look out for anyone with a tattoo saying Marche ou Crève (march or die) - it's the Legion motto and some recruits get it tattooed on their faces, just to make the point. 

Legion soldiers are often on the frontline of any military conflict and they also carry out domestic missions such as combating piracy and people smuggling around France.

The Pioneer corps of the Legion in their traditional garb. Photo: AFP


There obviously aren't enough broken-hearted lovers and shady characters turning up in France any more, because the Legion now runs a near-permanent recruitment campaign, using all sorts of modern methods including social media.

During the lockdown, one of their fitness instructors ran online classes in an attempt to help confined French people stay in shape.

The Legion also heads to the beach in summer, and not to sunbathe.


"We recruit all year round. But in the summer, there are fewer candidates, so we go where the people are: the beaches,"  Warrant Officer Sang-Jin Lee told French newspaper Le Parisien.

And if you speak French, the Legion will be particularly keen to sign you up. Although their recruits come from across the world, the orders are all given in French.

Recruits get a crash course in basic military French, but officers want to increase the number of French speakers and people who have a knowledge of French culture and customs.

Should I sign up?

Well first you have to be a man - the Legion does not recruit women.

The starting salary is €1,380 (post-tax) and you get 45 days holiday a year once basic training at Castelnaudary in south west France is completed. If you serve five years or are injured on active service you can apply for French citizenship and there are also intensive French classes so it's a good way to learn the language.

The selection process to get into the unit is three weeks long. You must be vaccinated against Covid to apply. You do not have to have gone to school or have any kind of academic diploma. 

Set against that, the training is intensive (some say brutal), the culture hyper-macho and if you do make it through the first six months, Legionnaires tend to be on the front line of most military conflicts, so it won't be an easy service.

To get in top physical shape, the Legion recommends that you train prior to applying.


The Legion's website reads: "This lifestyle corresponds to that of a single person." 

Legionnaires are only allowed to get married if they have completed five years of military service and have informed their commander. They are required to wear their uniforms at all time - unless they obtain special permission. 

The Legion does have its own vineyard for veterans though. 


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