VILLA SIMONT, 12.3.39 [1]

Troops[2]  returning from manoeuvres[3]  passed the house a few days back, to the number of about 5000 men, more than half of[4]  these Senegalese. The spahis look pretty good, general physique better than the average of the population. Horses about 14 hands, strong but not much breed, all colours, whites and greys predominantly, seemingly some castrated and some not, but no mares (never ridden in this country).[5]  Notice at the rifle range that[6]  all horses[7]  are well accustomed to fire. Seeing them on the march en masse, I do not now think (as I did before) that the Senegalese infantry are superior to the Arabs. They look much of a muchness. With the cavalry were some kind of small-bore quick-firing guns[8]  – could not see the mechanism[9]  as they were enveloped in canvas, but evidently the bore of the gun was[10]  1” or less. Rubber tyres to wheels. Transport wagons have huge all-steel disc wheels and are pulled by three mules. In addition there were[11]  pack batteries (screw guns[12] ). These[13]  guns were round about 3”, perhaps 75mm, though, of course, different from the quick-firer 75mm. Field gun.[14]  To carry the whole gun, ammunition etc. evidently requires 6-8 mules. The breech-piece of the gun is a load for one mule. A column such as we saw could manoeuvre[15]  without difficulty anywhere in country such[16]  as this, except in the mountains. The men are sent on manoeuvre[17]  with their heavy khaki overcoats etc., but do not seem to be overloaded as they used to be. Most seemed to be carrying 40 – 50 lb.
Five English and Americans from the Foreign Legion have been to visit us from time to time:
Craig. Glasgow Irish, but Orange. Fairly superior working-class, claims that  his father is well-paid office employee[18]  and to have been the same as himself. Age about 25, healthy and good physique. Distinct signs of paranoia (boasting about past grandeurs etc.) as is usual with these types. Has been about 2 1/2 years in the Legion and spent half of this in prison camps etc., having made two attempts to desert[19].  Speaks little French. Somewhat “anti-red”, showed hostility at mention of Maxton. Does not like the French and would try not to fight if war came[20].
Williams. American, dark hair, possibly a touch of dark blood. Health and physique not very good. He has nearly finished his 15 years, then gets small pension (about 500 francs a month) and expects to remain in Morocco. Is now orderly at the officer’s mess. Not well-educated[21]  but well-disposed and evidently thoughtful.
Rowlands. Age about 30-35. “Superior” type and curious accent which might belong to an[22]  Eurasian. Drinks when possible. Has done 5 years in the Legion, or nearly and thinks of leaving (they engage[23]  for 5 years and can re-engage if they wish). Evidently has not been much in trouble. Gentle disposition, thoughtful type, but not intelligent.
Smith. American, age about 40, employed as bandsman. Some tendency to drink. Has a good many years of service. Not intelligent[24]  but evidently good-hearted.
Also a young Scotsman whom I only met once. Evidently there are only two or three other Englishmen and Americans in this lot (the 4th). It is clear that[25]  Englishmen etc. don’t get on, will not put up with the rough conditions etc., and are also handicapped by inability to learn French, which the Germans are better able to do. All the above-mentioned are still privates. The Legion is predominantly German and the NCOs are usually Germans.
It is clear that life in the Legion is now thoroughly dull. None of the above has[26]  seen any fighting except innocuous skirmishes. Fights occur among the men sometimes, but the dueling once prevalent has been put down. After a year or so of service a Legionnaire[26]  is still only earning about 2 francs a day (3d), and it never gets much above this unless he becomes an NCO. A sergeant gets 1200 francs a month but has to pay for[28]  his food and also something for his clothes. Uniforms are badly-fitting but the men get a fair quantity of clothes. They have to launder them themselves. Each man gets 1/2litre[29] of wine a day. There is no free tobacco issue, and recruits are usually unable to smoke for their first six months.
After the collapse of[30] Catalonia the Petit Marocain immediately became much more pro-Franco. Every comparison of French papers with those we receive from England makes it clear that the French and British publics get their news in very different forms, and that one or other press, more probably both, is habitually lying. Eg. the local press did not mention the machine-gunning of refugees[31] in Catalonia, alleged in the English press.
To judge from the legionnaires’ rumours there is still some expectation of war. Once the rumour went round that they were to be mobilised tonight. Within the last few days they have received a large consignment of machine guns[32] and other small-arms at the depot[33] here, as though in expectation of fresh drafts of men. Whenever a French warship touches at Casablanca numbers of sailors are sent[34] on voluntary-compulsory trips[35] to Marrakech, where they fraternize with the soldiers.
Some of the crops of barley are now in ear and look fairly good. It appears that by local standards there has been a large rainfall this year and crops are expected to be good.

[1] The section of the Morocco Diary from 12 March to ‘Japanese and apart’ in the fourth sentence of 28 March (see 541) exists in manuscript and typed forms. Both are Orwell’s work. The typed version is given here, except for obvious errors. In the following textual notes, unless stated otherwise the typed version is given first. Orwell invariably uses an ampersand for ‘and’ when writing, but spells it out when typing; some other words (e.g. ‘about’ and numerals) are contracted when written but are typed in full. These are not noted. It can be seen that Orwell’s practice in such matters as hyphenation varies.
[2] Troops] Troops,
[3] Typescript erroneously spells this ‘maneouvres’.
[4]  ‘of’ is omitted
[5]  ‘never ridden in this country’ is omitted.
[6]  Typescript has ‘than’.
[7]  horses] the horses
[8]  quick-firing guns] quick-firing gun
[9]  the mechanism] mechanism
[10]  evidently the bore of the gun was] bore of the gun evidently about
[11] were] were were
[12]  screw guns] screw-guns
[13]  These] The
[14]  quick-firer 75mm. Field gun. ]ordinary 75mm.
[15]  Country such] such a country
[16]  manoeuvre] manooeuvres
[17]  ‘that’ is omitted
[18]  office employee] office-employee
[19]  desert] escape
[20]  came] came along
[21]  -educated] -,educated
[22]  an] a
[23]  engage] enlist
[24]  intelligent] intelligent,
[25]  ‘that’ is omitted
[26]  has] have
[27]  légionnaire (The accent, correct in French, is not used in English. Not noted again.)
[28]  pay 300 for (Orwell may have omitted the amount because, on reflection, uncertain of its correctness.)
[29]  litre] a litre
[30]  of] in
[31]  refugees] the refugees
[32]  machine guns] machine-guns
[33]  depot] depôt (See n. 27.)
[34]  on] on a
[35]  trips] trip Peter Davison

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21 Responses to VILLA SIMONT, 12.3.39 [1]

  1. Barnaby says:

    Absolutely fascinating description of the Foreign Legion: Orwell at his best!

  2. zenomax says:

    What happened to the Foreign Legion when war started? Being populated by a large number of germans must have meant trouble, mischief & strife???

    Another sensory overload after weeks of near famine from GO.

  3. Roving Thundercloud says:

    It’s early: I had to read “Is now orderly at the officer’s mess”
    3 times before I could move on.

    My favorite, though, is “thoughtful type, but not intelligent.” A few quick strokes from the master and voila, a vivid portrait. This is the stuff we’ve been hungering for (not eggs).

  4. Barnaby says:

    To Thundercloud

    “This is the stuff we’ve been hungering for (not eggs)”. My sentiments exactly. Let’s hope it’s not too late for Orwell to change his ways!

  5. The real Orwell is back.
    I reckon that dead snake of yesterday was an auspicious omen.

  6. Fay Shirley says:

    I don’t think that Craig (Glasgow Irish) or the “young Scotsman” would have thought themselves English rather than Scottish or British. I think that the English did say “English” when they meant “British” more that they would now. It all adds to the picture Orwell builds of the time.

  7. Kenny says:

    This *is* exciting. The marching past of the Senegalese troops is what he ends his essay “Marrakech” with. I wonder if I can post the whole last paragraph. It’s interesting to see the huge difference between the diary and the published stuff:

    “As the storks flew northward the Negroes were marching southward–a long, dusty column, infantry, screw-gun batteries and then more infantry, four or five thousand men in all, winding up the road with a clumping of boots and a clatter of iron wheels.
    They were Senegalese, the blackest Negroes in Africa, so black that sometimes it is difficult to see whereabouts on their necks the hair begins. Their splendid bodies were hidden in reach-me-down khaki uniforms, their feet squashed into boots that looked like blocks of wood, and every tin hat seemed to be a couple of sizes too small. It was very hot and the men had marched a long way. They slumped under the weight of their packs and the curiously sensitive black faces were glistening with sweat.
    As they went past a tall, very young Negro turned and caught my eye. But the look he gave me was not in the least the kind of look you might expect. Not hostile, not contemptuous, not sullen, not even inquisitive. It was the shy, wide-eyed Negro look, which actually is a look of profound respect. I saw how it was. This wretched boy, who is a French citizen and has therefore been dragged from the forest to scrub floors and catch syphilis in garrison towns, actually has feelings of reverence before a white skin. He has been taught that the white race are his masters, and he still believes it.
    But there is one thought which every white man (and in this connection it doesn’t matter twopence if he calls himself a Socialist) thinks when he sees a black army marching past. “How much longer can we go on kidding these people? How long before they turn their guns in the other direction?”
    It was curious, really. Every white man there has this thought stowed somewhere or other in his mind. I had it, so had the other onlookers, so had the officers on their sweating chargers and the white NCOs marching in the ranks. It was a kind of secret which we all knew and were too clever to tell; only the Negroes didn’t know it. And really it was almost like watching a flock of cattle to see the long column, a mile or two miles of armed men, flowing peacefully up the road, while the great white birds drifted over them in the opposite direction, glittering like scraps of paper.”

  8. chris says:


    Most of the German recruits stayed in the French colonies. The legion fought in the France after invasion and several duration only units were raised, although one named the 13th Half Brigade still exists. After France surrendered this unit remained loyal to De Gaulle and fought in the Wesern Desert. The rest of the legion remained loyal to Vichy France and the German recruits were forcibly conscripted into the German forces or imprisoned. After the allies invaded North Africa they were enrolled alongside the Free French (some units reluctantly) and saw action in Italy and France, Germany. There were also units in Indo China who after France resumed the fight were attacked by Japanese forces and were either killed or taken prisoner.

  9. Kenny says:

    Well, it was a little more than a paragraph. Sorry to be a hog. Anyway, I think it’s interesting. That exchanged look in “Marrakech” with the African soldier is very reminiscent of the exchanged look with the miner’s wife in Road to Wigan Pier. I seem to recall in that case that there the diary suggested that there had not, in fact, been an exchanged look. Perhaps it was simply a powerful literary technique that Orwell developed to cement an observed experience. It also happens near the beginning of 1984 (with O’Brien) and at the very beginning of Homage to Catalonia.

  10. art brennan says:


    Very interesting use of the word “paranoia.” I agree that the “type” is common in the mercenary world. We used to say “he can’t make it on the outside.”

  11. Arnold Mousetrouser (Australia) says:

    Fay Shirley: English, British.
    Strictly, “English” is used for people of England itself, but in generalisations, such as Orwell uses, “English” covers much more. “British” is the term that covers those from what is called in posh-speak the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. The United Kingdom, or “UK”, includes English, Welsh and Scots. I remember as a young fellow in the 1940s plus having to place myself on official forms as “British/English” and others would be down as “British/Welsh” and “British/Scottish”. Northern Irish “Ulstermen” seemed to be able to write no more than “N.Irish”, from what I remember.

    Now “UK” is used a lot when talking about the British Isles generally, and, in Australia, where I have been living since 1960 (arriving as an immigrant with “British/English” on my record) we refer these days to “the Brits” as a general term. But Scottish patriots campaign to be called “Scottish”, and it appears there is a strongish movement that wants them to be so-called. AM (Australia)

  12. What is it with George and anyone called Williams ;-)
    I had this out with him before. Now he’s at it again.
    “Touch of dark blood” is such an interesting phrase. I expect he picked it up in the Officer’s Mess of the Burmah Police.

  13. andrew says:

    kenny, thanks for that addendum, very interesting.

    i’ve never heard this “much of a muchness” before. this diary is really great reading.

  14. I find it an odd custom that “Whenever a French warship touches at Casablanca numbers of sailors are sent on voluntary-compulsory trips to Marrakech, where they fraternize with the soldiers.” Nevertheless, I admit that this ritualistic meld of soldier and sailor did keep their boxing and first-aid skills on the cutting-edge.

  15. Holden Caulfeild says:

    OK its official…he is a spy (peering at their breech blocks…) For who though ? (USSR ?)….most likely…
    He certainly sounds pretty full of himself too,when it comes to “sizing up ” folks…

    I seem to notice he has a real media (newspaper) fascination…(that and the FFL…)

  16. While attempting to picture a mediocre, Senegalese infantryman trotting along on a mediocre, gray horse, packing a semi-automatic sidearm (and/or rifle)—the bore of which ‘was[10] 1” or less’ –I determined that such an exercise is futile because other scenarios battled for the foreground once I began considering the impracticality of the massive, heavy-duty magazines necessary to feed projectiles into the weapon (even while, for example, in the midst of ambushing an elephant acting like an elephant that just wants to be left alone, while also holding back a crowd of blood-thirsty, broom-wielding thrill-seekers).

  17. JamesL3’s remark reminds me that George was asked for his greatest regret in life. He said it was killing that elephant. he never forgave himself for the dirty deed, egged on by that furious crowd. And I believe him.

  18. Jake says:

    “Horses about 14 hands, strong but not much breed, all colours, whites and greys predominantly, seemingly some castrated and some not, but no mares (never ridden in this country).”

    The absence of mares fascinating, and the description of the horses quite evocative, especially the phrase “strong but not much breed,” which could also be applied to one or two of the Legionaires.

  19. Ed Webb says:

    Misfit legionnaires,
    Poor stock compared to spahis;
    Feeble, dying breed

  20. Phil Barker says:

    Holden, I think it is safe to say that after his experience in Catalonia he is most definitely *not* spying for the USSR!

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