British soldier served with 2 REP (paratroops) and 1 REC (armoured) French Foreign Legion in Corsica, Zaire, French Guyana, Djibouti, Chad, France and Reunion and Comores Islands 1971-1993
REEL 1 Born in Scotland to an army family, he grew up all over the place including West Germany and Virginia, USA. He speaks about his schooling, where he wasn't very academic, and what he did after he left, including some years at Art school. His dream had been to become an officer in the British army but his exam results were too poor so he sneaked away from Art school to join the French Foreign Legion in 1971 After a look at Fort Nogent (?) and a brief return to England to tie up loose ends, Jon went back to Paris but didn't join up straight away. He spent four months' begging on the métro, at which he became quite adept, but winter was soon approaching and he finally signed up in November 1971. He enjoyed the process of enroling and was given the new identity of Jack Hayes, born in 1951, from Leicester. After 2-3 days of interviews and vetting in Paris, they were sent on the train down to Marseille and then on to lorries to Aubagne. The new recruits were there for about ten days undergoing rigourous medical and physical testing. He gives details of the entry tests and the health requirements. He experienced some second thoughts here. He was eventually accepted and he signed his contract.
REEL 2 They were taken to Marseille port and put on a boat to Corsica. One new recruit jumped overboard during the voyage. Ethnic groups were starting to form, he stuck with the Portuguese. They arrived at Bastia and were driven down to the Bonifacio citadel. He tells of how he felt quite lonely and intimidated at first by the strict meal routine. He tells of how clans started to form, according to physical or mental prowess. The basic training proper started on January 2nd: 75 recruits and about 8 instructors. He gives details of the training and the daily routine. People started to desert or be dismissed. Those who deserted frequently had bad experiences with Corsicans nearby, some disappeared completely. He took basic French lessons but learnt more from his everyday experiences. He hung around with Portuguese and German recruits. He tells of a funny experience when he was supposed to be cleaning the apartment of an officer. He was so good that he was chosen to carry the platoon flag and finished top in the training at the end of the four months. He did so well that he was asked to stay on, instead of being assigned to a regiment as was normal, and work as an instructor. He was also offered the chance to attend corporal class which was a real privilege. He qualified as a corporal within ten months of joining up in 1972 and was desperate to leave for a regiment but again he was asked to stay another year and was sent off to a sergeant platoon where four months' intensive study brought him to the rank of sergeant within two years of signing up, finishing first again. He now got to be in the NCOs' mess and was moving in ever higher circles but the thought of spending the year stuck there frustrated him.
REEL 3 He had very little contact with his family at the time; he talks about how they felt about him being there. Also talks about the inter-nationality squabbling that went on. He talks about the brothel, run by two Marseille women, the prostitutes and the medical supervision there. He talks about leisure time and how, although it was forbidden, gambling still went on. Towards the end of his year as a sergeant instructor, there was a rebellion among the NCOs about being expected to eat with the new recruits; they were all accused of mutiny and Jon, much to his delight, was given his wish and driven up to Bastia to join the 2 REP Paratroops for jump training. He was in an awkward position since he was already an officer but did not have his wings so he was treated very frostily by the officers when he arrived and was also ridiculed by the instructors but he bore it well. He describes the running drills they had to do. He says he didn't mind being singled out and it was all worth it in the end. He describes learning how to discipline wayward recruits both physically and verbally. He also gives an account of the graduation ceremonies and the drinking that went on after them. He was assigned to the first combat company of the 2 REP after completing training. He describes the duties and reputations of each of the 6 companies in turn. His was positioned at Calvi, waiting for postings. The first thing he was involved in was an internal but hotly contested competition within his regiment.
REEL 4 His first overseas posting was to Djibouti in 1975 for five months to support the 3 DVLE, operating on a quick response basis patrolling borders and safeguarding towns. They had to deal with a 30,00 man riot there stemming from inter-clan rivalry. He says it was quite intimidating since they all had knifes but they all dealt with it very effectively. He didn't like Djibouti very much and says it got worse after independence from France. He returned from Djibouti and did another jump course in Corsica, of which he gives details regarding runs, codes, para techniques, reconnaissance tactics, equipment used and so on. Then he was sent back to Djibouti in June 1977 as reinforcements, a very uneventful period. 1978 was a very busy year for the Legion. His regiment was sent down to Zaire to help deal with the Kolwesi(?) rising where he was put into the 4th company. White residents in the Katanga copper region had been taken hostage by the rebels, lots of whom were massacred. Jon was dropped in the second wave over Kolwesi, which was scary. He gives details of the mission, which went very smoothly, and talks about the weapons they used.
REEL 5 They secured the town but there were still 30,000 or so rebels outside. He saw some horrific scenes (of the murdered Europeans) but dealt with them dispassionately as he had been trained. Most of the Europeans were saved (he describes some of the action) and many prisoners taken. Some of these were killed which he approved of. He describes the cleaning-up operation which followed, how he had to look after a journalist, a scuffle with some Belgian paras and some of the missions he had to perform. He tells about the delight of some of the locals, the looting that went on and how he greatly enjoyed shooting a hippo. During one mission looking for hostages in Zambia when his unit was almost high-jacked. All in all only five men died on his side, and only 30 were injured.
REEL 6 He describes how he dealt with some Zairi road extortionists and prevented them demanding money from travellers in and out of the town. Then he describes the departure and the take-over by the peace-keeping forces. He talks about the food while he was in Zaire and the many free meals and drinks they were treated to on their return. Then it was back to normality, training and exercises. In 1980, having been promised a promotion to sergeant major, he was sent to French Guyana which frustrated him so much that he started throwing grenades around the camp and was put in prison for twenty days for his troubles. Then he set off for French Guyana. He was placed in 3 Company, 1st Section of 3 Regiment there. It was very hot, humid jungle conditions there but the courses were very interesting. He grew very interested in the Devil's Island Prison Complex there and speaks about this at some length. He also speaks about the danger of swimming, due to sharks, and about the other diverse and dangerous wildlife there. He goes on to describe the local Amazonian-Indians there and the problems of the grim large town, Plaroo(?), and the drugs problem. He became a platoon commander for the first time while he was there.
REEL 7 The training continued and he got into engineering in the Regina region which he describes. There then follows the incident, involving a corporal who refused to come to parade and had his nose broken by Jon, which resulted in his being demoted to sergeant and sent back to France. He says people were very sympathetic to him but that his fate was sealed by people with vendettas against him.He wasn't allowed back into the REP and was sent instead to Orange and 1 Regiment, the REC, 4 Squadron, an armoured division. This turned out well for him as he met his future wife and became a platoon commander again. His first assignment here was to the Comores Islands where he didn't have much to do except guard duty and more training. He started in Mayartre(?) and later moved to Réunion Island. He describes his time there as glorious and describes the lifestyle. He then returned to the REC in Orange and went though a limbo period where he became very involved in the para-club and met his future wife. He then opted to take a slight retardation in rank in order to rejoin the REP which he did after staying in Orange for the Cameroon Day celebrations he had helped to organise. Back in Corsica, he regained his staff-sergeant rank after a three year delay due to the nose-breaking incident. He also reached the status of HALO para instructor and, two months after arriving, married his wife. His first tour of duty back in the REP was in Chad in 1984. He had a great time there doing patrols against Libyan insurgents - lots of danger, great fun - and was even bodyguard to the French Defence minister for two or three days.
REEL 8 He was platoon sergeant for 1 Section. He describes some manoeuvres in Chad as part of Operation Mantra protecting the tottering régime in Chad from the Libyan threat although he never met any face to face. It was a wonderful time for him. Then back to Calvi. He reached the rank of adjutant in 1987, the summit of his career. He returned to Chad in 1987 and describes the time he was bombed by the Libyans there, "a shocking experience", in detail. He returned to France and had one more uneventful trip to Djibouti. Once he was in France for good, he started considering leaving in order to spend more time with his family. Since this was his intention, he decided there was little point in striving for promotion so he became sports NCO at Calvi which was enjoyable but also frustrating due to a lack of funding. In June 1993 he left the Legion after two months' termination leave and got used to civilian life very quickly, enjoying the greater time he could spend with his family. He started work with Eurotunnel in November 1993 where he still works. Being shot at made his life worth living, he says, and he had no problem being shot at for France: he took dual nationality. He tells a story about a killed French pilot in Chad whose body and gear he had to recover amidst a sandstorm in a helicopter at great length. He gives his opinions on weapons, other units of the Legion and of the French army in general. He speaks briefly about his visits to the Central African Republic which he had omitted to mention before.
REEL 9 He finishes this account and proceeds to talk about general topics. He loves the family life but of course misses the Legion. He's getting back into the rural life (pubs, cricket, etc.) The demotion is his only real bitter point other than the Legion's treatment by the French army. The Legion was near perfect, a big family that protects it own. Talks about his pension and privileges. He explains why it was so special and goes on to speak about the problems of AIDS in the Legion and of recent negative publicity.
END OF INTERVIEW.