The Band(s) of the French Foreign Legion

The Band(s) of the French Foreign Legion

(by Kris Schauvliege, IMMS)

Article written for “Band International” 1997.


The French Foreign Legion was created in 1831 by King Louis-Philippe. The principal characteristic of this elite corps is that it consists of non-French soldiers. Since its creation, the Foreign Legion has participated in many famous battles and campaigns: North-Africa, World War I and II, Indo China, Algeria and more recently the Gulf War and Yugoslavia. Their most famous battle honor is Camerone, Mexico. On 30 April 1863, 3 officers and 62 soldiers resisted for a whole day against 2,000 Mexican revolutionaries. At the end of the day, only five survivors were taken alive. The Legion commemorates this battle every year at their Headquarters at Aubagne (near Marseille).

The Bands

La Musique Principale de Ia Legion Etrangere: Aubagne (France)

Band of the 3rd Foreign Regiment: Guyana

Consists of two NCOs and about nineteen musicians. The Band is also the mortar-platoon of the Regiment.

Band of the 5th Foreign Regiment: Tahiti.

Consists of two sergeants and sixteen musicians. They perform at military ceremonies in the Regiment and also have military duties.

Band of the 13th Foreign Brigade: Djibouti

Consists of between seven and fifteen musicians. They only play traditional calls and a few marches.

Band of the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment: Orange (France)

Consists of a director and about fifteen musicians. They are also responsible for the Anti- Aircraft Platoon of the Regiment.

Band of the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment: Calvi (Corsica)

Consists of around 22 musicians. They only perform at Regimental functions.

La Musique Principale de Ia Legion Etrangere

La Musique Principale de Ia Legion Etrangere (The Principal Band of the French Foreign Legion) was formed 9 March 1831. The Band consisted of a director and 27 musicians but by 1860 had grown to a strength of around 40 musicians. The conductor in that era was Monsieur Wilhelm composer of the music of the famous French Foreign Legion marching song ‘Le Boudin’ (literal translation being ‘blood sausage’). The origin of the song is unknown.

A string orchestra was formed in 1887 and by the turn of the century had built up a fine reputation.

Due to the events of World War One the Band was disbanded in 1914 but was reformed in 1918. The Band was now required to perform as a symphony orchestra, a harmony orchestra (military band) and a ceremonial band. This was the golden era for the Band.

Once more war caused the Band to be disbanded in 1940 and, on reformation after hostilities had ceased, it was decided not to have a string orchestra.

Today the band consists of around 100 musicians some of whom had no musical experience when they enlisted but have since been trained at the conservatory. There are several characteristics which distinguish the Band of the Foreign Legion from other French military bands:

a) a slow pace of 88 paces per minute as opposed to the normal 120

b) fifers

c) Chinese Head (bell-tree)

d) the low position of the drums

e) the white-colored kepi

The Band performs at tattoos and concerts in France and abroad and in 1997 appeared at the Royal Tournament in London. They are always extremely popular at the march-past on the Champs-Elysees on the French National Holiday.

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