Ahh, breakfast in Paris, OK it wasn’t the Champs-Elysees, but the bread and coffee was good. After a few days Corporal Yarring told us we were taking the night train to Aubagne, Marseille, the Legion’s headquarters and selection. Selection!? No one had said anything about selection. I had expected to be on a camel by now, but apparently there were five hundred other people with the same idea. Ken and I had a sinking feeling. “Don’t worry,” says the Corporal. “Keep out of trouble during the selection and you’ll be fine.” He hadn’t read SILH (7) A Penultimate Tale or indeed ‘I’m Amazing’ I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by keep out of trouble, so we asked him to elaborate. “Don’t get into cliques with other English recruits and no fighting,” he said. I was still confused as I didn’t know what a clique was and I thought we were there to fight, so I nodded using that ‘gormless face’ as my Mum used to say.
The train was great, when someone fell asleep we put matches between their toes and lit them or just painted their face with a marker pen. Eventually I arrived in Marseille with no sleep, no matches and a dry marker pen 🙂 Upon entering the selection camp there were other young men shouting, ‘any English?’ I put my hand up, of course and that was that apparently I was in a clique.
There were lots of tests and when we returned to our billet people had disappeared. Literally disappeared. One day Ken disappeared. This was a little disconcerting, so a few days later when we were at the hospital waiting for another test I asked our German Sergeant. ” Où est Ken?” He frowned at me (I’ve met happier men).
“He is gone, you want to go with him?” I declined his generous offer and returned to my seat. As people disappeared new people appeared, then one day we welcomed into our clique Otto. He was a very large German chap who, we all decided, would be very handy at a later date. Otto’s primary disfunction was that he loved to fight – anyone.
Several things happened around this time. I had chosen the 13th Demi-Brigade as my future home and with my diving/construction experience Combat Engineer as my new career. They shaved our heads, well apart from the Greek guy who, just as the shears were about to make their first pass, pulled off his shaggy wig. Someone did a poop in the showers and there had been several fights, so at the 0530 roll call one morning Sgt LeGrain informed us of these misdemeanours and explained that he had been shot in the Algeria conflict (I didn’t get the connection either) He did make it very clear that fighting and pooping in the shower was punishable by exile. That morning I was detailed to help in the kitchen and observed chef shooting Blackbirds with an air rifle. I didn’t understand why until that evening when there were two little birds on my plate.
Then disaster struck, we were resting on our bunks one evening when ‘little Tommy’ ran in and said that Otto was getting a hiding in the showers. Corporal Yarring’s words didn’t echo in my head, sadly. Our ‘clique’ ran to the showers and had a jolly good scrap. Hmmm, the next morning after breakfast we were escorted to a broom cupboard (yes really) We stayed there for about 2 hours until everyone else was out of the way then walked to a corridor where a man behind a hatch tore up our contracts and told us we were history. We were put on a train back to Paris and released into the wild once more. Oh well 🙂