Mark Brewer

Foreign Legion Member in the Great War

68 posts in this topic

ID: 1   Posted (edited)

Hi, I found the following entry in the School List of Nelson College in New Zealand and want to find out more info on his Foreign Legion service. How easy is this? How do I find out if he has a Legion d'Honneur recipient? Any guidance greatly appreciated. Mark.

Davidson, Edmund John, student 1893-94. Formerly of Onetana, Collingwood, N., later of N Battery, 3rd Artillery, USA, garrisoning Fort Munro in Virginia. Saw active service in South Africa with Canadian Scouts. In 1906 saw active against rebel Zulus as Captain of mounted troops; wounded; mentioned in despatches and awarded Distinguished Service Medal. Played 1st XV (rugby) 1894; represented Nelson in football v Auckland, 1895 and v Taranaki 1896.

Served in Great War (1914-18), Foreign Legion. Colonel, DSO.

Edited by Mark Brewer

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Seems a very unusual career.

I would check the Natal medal and QSA roll just to see if its on the level. There is no way he would have been a legion Colonel and the DSO is probably serving with the Brits so there must be a Lon.Gaz. entry with a unit?

Best

Chris

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Hello Mark

I agree with Mark. No Foreign Legion colonel from down under recorded to date. Sounds like an unlikely carreer. Very, very few non French colonels (the only two I recall were Martinez - the Crimea & Magenta (- and Amilakvary - Bir-Hackeim, Egypt).

The mention of a DSO would rather indicate some kind of command with the British. Other units have been called Legions besides the French and Spanish varieties (Arab Legioin, Glubb Pacha and all those..)

The next part of the story will be interesting to hear.

Cheers

Veteran

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Yeah, I asked a similar question on the British Medals Forum about the DSO. The Canadian Guys said that there is no record of him in South Africa and the Brits say he did not get a DSO, Mid nor was wounded so I think he may have made the whole story up.

As far as New Zealanders in the Legion go, how easy would it be to obtain information on Lieutenant Colonel James Waddell who served in WW1 and North Africa.

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I don't think you will have any luck.

I would bet my car he was not an officer. If he was a legionnaire (other ranks) there is no way of researching him that I know of.

But I would guess... if the first part was baloney, then the legion bit would be as well.

All the best

Chris

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Chris,

Yeah sorry, I've given up on the first guy. The Lt Col Waddell I mentioned is a different guy, maybe I should had posted it as a different thread. He is confirmed as a Foreign Legion Lieutenant Colonel (its alright I won't take your car, too far to drive it to New Zealand).

You say that it is almost impossible to research 'other ranks' in the Legion (I understand that they enlist under a false name). But how would I obtain information on someone like Waddell who had a long and distinguished career in the Legion as an Officer.

Mark

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Mark

You seem to know quite a bit about this Lt.Col WADDELL, since you write he was a confirmed officer in the Foreign Legion. Would your information be sufficient to be more precise as to the period when he served with us ? To be quite frank, I would love to know what else is confirmed about him.

Researching French officers is possible with the Service Historique de l'Armee de Terre (SHAT) / Chateau de Vincennes / F94000 Vincennes / France. Officer's records are made available 120 years after their year of birth by the "Service des Archives de l'Arm?e de Terre", same address. But this would probably only be possible if he was or became a French citizen and served as such.

The Foreign Legion is totally restricive about the identity and carreers of rank and files members of the Corps. It is a fast rule. A legionnaire's identity and life are his own business, and no one else's.

If you have more information to spare, I might be able to enquire. But just a name would be too little. At least a period of services would be necessary. How did you get to know about him ?

Just say if you feel I can be of help.

Best regards

Veteran

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ID: 8   Posted (edited)

Mark

A few minutes later. ...

I went onto GOOGLE and indeed, I found that a "commandant" (Major) WADDELL was in command of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment de Marche de la Legion etrangere (R.M.L.E.) during the Cbampagne attack in April 1917. This was found on : No mention was made that he was a New-Zealander.

I have found no more yet. Would this click with the info you have ?

Incidentally, the RMLE was also my Regiment. I served there as a legionnaire in 1944-45; it had been reformed in 1943 and was the armoured infantery of the 5th Armoured Division (1st French Army).

Best regards

Veteran

Edited by Veteran

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Hello Mark

This is what I haven found for you. Strangely, it was a Polish reference on Google which confirmed that the Commandant James WADDELL, a New-Zeelander, served indeed during WW1 with the Foreign Legion. The same source states that he became a Lieutenant-Colonel.

Considering this, I suggest you write to : Service historique de la L?gion etrangere / 1er Regiment etranger / Quartier Vienot BP 38 / 13998 MARSEILLE ARMEES / FRANCE.

I am not sure they actually HAVE TO, but I suspect they might furnish you with a biography of this officer or at least some insight of his carreer with the Legion.

I also found this adress : Amicale des Anciens de la Legion etrangere d'Australie / 2235 5/7 Crawford Road / WYNNUM WEST Q. 4178 / AUSTRALIA

President : Mr Peter WADDELL.

I sincerely hope you find more about this officer and I apologize if I sounded dubiuous with my first message. Please keep us posted on this forum with the next developments.

Wishing you much luck with your enquiries, with best regards

Veteran

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Chris,

Yeah sorry, I've given up on the first guy. The Lt Col Waddell I mentioned is a different guy, maybe I should had posted it as a different thread. He is confirmed as a Foreign Legion Lieutenant Colonel (its alright I won't take your car, too far to drive it to New Zealand).

Sorry, thought it was all one guy. Would have been a career too good to be true.

Best

Chris

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Veteran, sorry for the delay in replying. Thank you very much for the information. I'll forward the info I have soon. Here is a photo of his grave in New Zealand.

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Absolutely bombastic. Would love to see a photo of him.

surprising he has not made it into the history books. A Kiwi Lt. Col must be worth a page or two.

I knew a couple of Kiwis in the Legion, including Caporal Dick "The ugliest man in the Legion" (Which I think was unfair as we had an Italian named marsilli in our mortar section that was really the ugliest)

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Hello Mark

This settles it. The memorial to the Lieut-Colonel is the final touch and a wonderful witness.

I hope you receive further info from Aubagne which you will please share with us. I agree with Chris that this is an untold story which deserves to be documented.

Very best regards

Veteran

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The following newspaper article was provided to me by a friend. Unfortunately it is undated. I am very interested in sourcing some primary research information to confirm much of what is in the article, especially the citations. Can anyone help me?

FOR KING AND REPUBLIC

One of the French Foreign Legion?s greatest and most decorated heroes was a New Zealander who will be recalled at today?s Armistice Day commemorations. Warren Barton reports.

The grave of Lieutenant Colonel James Waddell is not a difficult one to find. It is three to the left, four rows down from the gate to the soldier?s sanctuary at the Old Cemetery in Tiro Tiro Rd, Levin. This is where, for nearly 50 years, the New Zealander who became one of the French Foreign Legion?s greatest heroes, one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I, has till today lain virtually forgotten. At 11 o?clock this morning on Armistice Day, he will be remembered by the nation that he served with such distinction, by members of the New Zealand Returned Services Association and a community which knew little of his exploits.

In fact, there is still amazingly little known about the forgotten hero, and much is based on the old soldier?s conversations with Enoch Coppin, a preacher from Otaki, who befriended him not long before his death and conducted his funeral. Mr Coppin later related what he knew in a booklet titled Victory Forever, a flowery but touching tract about faith ? in this case, the Colonel?s faith. Some of the background provided is sketchy. But it has since been fleshed out by military historian Christopher Pugsley, who first heard about what he now describes as ?a tale beyond belief? when the Domion Sunday Times published a story in 1989.

Dr Pugsley says the man who earned an incredible eight Croix de Guerre and became a Commander of the Legion of Honour was born the son of a saddler in Dunedin in 1872. He turned out to be a bright young man who won a scholarship to Otago Boy?s High School, and in 1895 became the first New Zealander to pass the open examination for an officer?s commission in the British Army. In 1896, at the age of 24, he joined the 2nd Battalion, the Duke of Wellington?s West Riding Regiment, in South Africa, where the bullying to which he was subjected by fellow officers sparked a court of inquiry.

But the little man (he stood only 1.6 metres) stuck it out and went with his regiment to India in 1898. There he met and married the French-woman who persuaded him to join the Foreign Legion, and using her contacts, helped him do so. On April 25, 1900, James Waddell was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the legion ? something unheard of for a foreigner, according to Dr Pugsley ? and went on to serve in the Boxer Rebellion, in North Africa and Indo-China. By the outbreak of World War I, the New Zealander had risen to the rank of captain and become a French citizen. In 1915, he commanded the 1st Regiment of the legion in Gallilopi, where on July 4 he won his first Croix de Guerre and admission to the Legion of Honour as a chevalier.

He earned his second Croix de Guerre (with palm leaf) in the same campaign on August 27 for an exploit described in Army Order 91 of the Gallipoli Expeditionary Corps: ?After having led his battalion to the attack with a courage and savior faire which was belied, he personally directed the attack of the battalion against the enemy?s position, which was strong and which he carried by storm. He refused to be taken from the field, remaining at the head of his battalion and commanded the firing line till the next morning?. In other citations he is praised for his ?legendary bravery?, for his ?brilliant conduct, energy and moral ascendancy?.

Before the war?s end, he also saw service on the Somme and in Verdun, and won six more Croix de Guerre with palm leaves ? three of them in three months ? while commanding a French regular battalion in 1918. In 1920 he was appointed a commander of the Legion of Honour. Colonel Waddell retired from the Legion in 1926 and returned to New Zealand after the death of his wife in 1950. He died in 1954, aged 82, while staying with his son Jack, who ran a grocery store in the main street of Levin. This is where Mr Coppin met the old soldier by chance and where the story of his remarkable military career unfolded in the month before his death, a story the preacher promised he would not reveal till the colonel?s death.

Colonel Waddell was buried on February 20 1954, after a simple ceremony conducted by Mr Coppin. Among the small congregation was Noel Henry, the French minister to New Zealand, who took almost 10 minutes to read the unknown hero?s citations. ?My friends? he then said, ?I cannot understand how such a man, born in New Zealand, could have received such honours from my country, but it was not my honour to know him?. With that he unfolded his country?s flag, draped the tricolour on the casket and a legend was buried. Today, the deputy French ambassador to New Zealand, Jarques Coudray, will lay a wreath upon that grave.

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Mark

You certainly have brought the final touch to making this story recognisable. The Frencn Embassador would certainly never have moved if the story had not been thouroughly verified.

This is a lead for you : get in touch wiht the French Military attach? at the French Embassy in New-Zeeland asking for his help.

If he feels like it, he can get official confirmation for most of the info you need, and if Lt-Col Waddell was born over 120 years ago, he might even get copies of his military files for you. He might also be able to move the Foreign Legion archivists in Aubagne.

Please keep us posted with your progress.

All the best

Veteran

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Bonjour,

Here's an extract from the very official "Annuaire Militaire de l'Arm?e Fran?aise" from 1905 ; You'll find the then Lieutenant Waddell listed (lower right corner) among the officers of the 2e R?giment Etranger (Note that there were only 2 Foreign Regiments at the time).

He had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (make that "First Lieutenant" in British terms) on April 25th 1902 - likely after spending the usual two years with the rank of "Sous-Lieutenant" ("2d Lieutenant").

You'll notice the mention "? titre ?tranger".

1905_Waddell.jpg

Waddell was mentioned in a book called "American Fighters in the Foreign Legion, 1914-1918", by Paul Ayres Rockewell, published in 1930 by the Houghton Mifflin company (I don't have the book) ; an extract, as provided by Google Books:

P.178:

"The Legion lost many men during all this fighting. My battalion chief, Commandant James Waddell, a New Zealander with fourteen years' service and a fine record in the Legion, was one of the few officers to come out of the fighting alive."

P.179 :

"During the attack on the Boyau du Chancelier, Commandant Waddell wanted to send a message to the company of Captain Do-Hu-Vi, which was held up in an open field by an intense machine-gun fire. The first liaison agent was killed, and a second one and a third wounded.

The order must be delivered.. The Legionnaire Morel offers to carry it. He managed to get through the storm of bullets and arrived at the company, to find Captain Do-Hu-Vi killed, and Lieutenant ....., the second in command, grievously wounded by a bullet in the stomach. Morel bandaged the wound, then with a small shovel dug a shallow boyau across the exposed field to a shell-pit ten metres away, and carefully dragged the wounded officer over into the shelter. He installed ... as comfortably as possible, made his way back to Waddell's post of commandment and reported on the situation. At nightfall Morel guided stretcher-bearers across the battle- swept field to where the Lieutenant lay, and saw him safely on the way to the hospital."

Good luck with your research !

Cheers,

Jerome

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Brilliant. Waddell certainly was an interesting man. I've yet to write to the French Embassy for assistance, but will do shortly. Mark.

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Congratulations Mark. This is a wonderful find. I wonder if the Service historique de la L?gion ?trang?re knows about this beautiful bi-lingual headstone.

Best regards

Veteran

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I still need to write to them, but will do shortly. Unfortunately I've been distracted by other lines of research but will get back to Waddell shortly. Mark.

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Still researching Colonel James Waddell. I have some copies of his service papers which I'll post soon. This photo comes from the website: http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4486616a13135.html The web site claims that each of his Croix de Guerre with palm is the equivalent of the Victoria Cross!!!

What is the British equivalent of Croix de Guerre with palm and what is the French equivalent of the Victoria Cross?? Mark

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ID: 25   Posted (edited)

What is the British equivalent of Croix de Guerre with palm and what is the French equivalent of the Victoria Cross?? Mark

I am afraid there is no equivalence, as far as the criteria for awarding them are completely different...

From my perspective, I believe that there is no point of comparison with the VC, which is a unique example. As a French it is easy for me to say that!

In France, it is true that the croix de guerre with palm is the highest award for bravery and leadership at war, and it could be accompanied by the Legion d'honneur Order. Thousands were given. In some aspects, we could better compare this to the DSO, MC or MM?

But I believe it is an error to seek an equivalence between medals and awards from different countries. By essence, they will be different in valor and signification, of course.

Regards

Bison

Edited by Bison

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