In the early days, legionnaires were looked down upon by other French forces.
And, because their code of honour is to never surrender arms, they were often quite literally used as cannon fodder.
Yet despite this level of devotion to France, foreign legionnaires were forbidden from stepping on French soil. In time, however, this would change.
In Mexico, during the Battle of Camarón on 30 April 1863, the Legion’s reputation for being a dispensable unit of undesirables was suddenly elevated to its now highly respected status as a fighting force to be reckoned with.
A small infantry patrol led by Capitane Danjou was attacked and besieged by three battalions of the Mexican infantry and cavalry. Danjou’s men were forced to make a defence in the Hacienda Camarón near Puebla.
It was 62 legionnaires and three officers against more than 2000 Mexican soldiers.
Legend has it that despite being hopelessly outnumbered, the legionnaires kept the Mexicans at bay for more than a day, refusing to surrender.
When the last of the men had run out of ammunition, they fixed bayonets and charged their enemy.
When asked to surrender again, the legionnaires demanded to be allowed safe passage home and to take with them the French flag and the body of their fallen capitane.
Out of respect for their courage, the Mexican commander agreed to their terms, commenting 'These are not men, they are devils.'
The battle, the name of which now adorns the Legion’s flag, remains symbolic of their vow never to give up arms. It was the turning point for the Legion.
Camarón Day, celebrated every year on 30 April, is a special day for the Legion, when the wooden prosthetic hand of Danjou is taken down from its place of honour and displayed, as the men remember their fallen heroes.
This same scenario is undoubtedly being relived as we speak in the sandbox. How long it will take for the heroic actions that our troops are performing daily to be published for the world to see and appreciate is unknown...