not exclusive to the French Foreign Legion the term “Le Cafard” is a form of
depression well known within the ranks of the “Kepi Blanc”.
translated as “Having the blues” the term apparently originates in
Beaudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du mal” first published in 1857.
is described as a depression that feels like a cockroach crawling inside the
brain, slowly driving the victim insane. Think Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”
for a civilian comparison.
Above: A postcard for French troops stationed in Morocco during WW1. "The kingdom of the "Cafard"" ... The "Cafard" is described as the redoubtable enemy that can not be fought with weapons.
military context the term appeared in the 1880’s where the “Cafard Colonial”
was an accepted medical condition filed under “Colonial Pathology”, it referred
to a condition usually suffered by Legionnaires and other members of the
colonial army. On occasions the explosive violence caused by soldiers having
the “cafard” (Avoir le Cafard) was excused as a medical condition.
the term was used to describe the depressions and burnout suffered by soldiers
in the trenches and since then it has become a common term in the French Army
where it is used to describe the condition of a soldier who due to melancholy,
listlessness or depression may be dangerous to himself or to his fellow
soldiers. The term was appropriated by the civilian population and has been
banalised to include any form of “having the blues”
Above: The austere conditions in Legion outposts often led to depression
Ex Legionnaire Erwin Rosen
brought it to a point in his memoirs where he wrote…
“The Foreign Legion has manufactured a special
expression of its own for this mental state “Cafard.” The “Cafard” reigned. The cafard of the Foreign Legion, a near
relative to tropical madness, is a collective name for all the inconceivable
stupidities, excesses and crimes which tormented nerves can commit. The English language has no word for this condition. In “cafard” murder hides, and suicide and
mutiny; it means self-mutilation and plan-less flight out into the desert; it
is the height of madness and the depth of despair. All idiocy in the Legion is called
“cafard”. A legionnaire is gloomy, sitting
sullenly on his bed for hours, speaking to no one. If you ask him what the matter is, he will
answer with a gross insult. He sits
thinking all the time and does the queerest things. He has the “cafard.”
Left: the Dog Tag of Legionnaire 2nd Class Charles Schütz who used his rifle to commit suicide in Fez, Morocco in 1916
may turn into a senseless explosion or fit of fury; men suffering from “cafard”
will run a bayonet through their comrade’s body, without any reason, without
any outward cause. Sometimes they rush
out into the desert; sometimes they tear every piece of their outfit into rags,
just to vex themselves and others thoroughly.
The “cafard” is at its worst in the hot season when the sun burns down
relentlessly from the cloudless, deep blue sky, with the strange greenish
coloring of the horizon peculiar to Algeria.
Then the barrack-yard of the Foreign Legion lies deserted. It is so hot that the stones on the yellow
clayey ground seem to move in the glimmering overheated air. The legionnaire
sentries wear the flowing white neck-protector, and have stuffed wet cloths
into their kepis.” (Erwin Rosen – In the Foreign Legion, Published 1910)
1940 an article entitled “Legion’s arch enemy is “Le Cafard” – Strange Desert
Malaise” was written by Genevieve Graham. In the article she describes the
mercurial nature of the Cafard and how officers deal with it.
Right: Germany had a prolific anti-legion propaganda machine warning young Germans about what awaited them in the Legion.
Legionnaire marches, makes highways of adventure, throws bridges across
torrential "Oueds," cuts away mountains, fights lawless sons of the
desert, resumes his long marches, and still manages to laugh in between times,
for "La Legion" is cheerful.
"I have never arrived at a
camp," says a French officer, "when I have not been greeted by the
'wit' of the squadron with one of those sallies of which they hold the secret.
Good humor sparkles like a gun powder fire, along the columns, and it is
expressed in many languages."
But there are times when this cheery courage
smokes, burns, and goes out. It is as though a wind of melancholy swept along
The old chiefs of the Legion feel the change in the atmosphere long
before any tangible proof of the "cafard" has shown itself.
incidents are soon aggravated by a sullen grouch an inertia takes hold of even
the most valiant, symptoms of boredom or neurotic tendencies appear, a general
irritability or an excessive politeness becomes obvious.
It may be by neglect
of the most elemental discipline (and then the wise officer closes his eyes) or
it may be an almost caricatural display of marks of respect (and then the wise
chief keeps a wary look out).
Then to one’s astonishment the taciturn begin to
talk, the chatterboxes are silent. Voices are heard to sing which were never
known to hum.
The more gentle natures become brusque and rough, using the
stirrup on their mules till they draw blood.
The violent tempered fall into an
apathetic sort of stupor. At these signs, and many others, an experienced chief
recognizes that the black mood of the cafard is about to descend upon his men.
is the remedy?
Some officers distribute an extra ration of wine, others advance
the troops money on their pay.
That may succeed in getting them over the mood
of depression but it may not. The cure is often worse than the ill.
It is the match which sets fire to the
powder. Some officers tighten up the discipline. Some exact at those times an
extra effort by putting their men to a difficult task – the more difficult the
Others favor rest and a complete relaxation of authority. I suppose the
shrewdest await events, bending later to the storm.
perhaps the only thing to do.
That mood of depression which strikes
Legionnaires singly or in groups (how easily gloominess, like cheeriness can be
communicated when a community of people is affected by barometric conditions or
by lack of specific interest or aim) is never apparent when the Legion is on
the march or going into battle.
Then the recklessness, the disdain of danger
that has caused so many of these men to break away from the beaten track, from
the laws of their country at some time or other makes daring, fearless soldiers
Although many seek to escape when stationed at Alger or Sidi-bel-
Abbès all love the Legion and stand fast to its tradition when there is real
soldiers' work to be done.”
Above: The Military Pass of Charles Schütz shows service in Algeria, the Campaign against Germany was voided and then shows his service in Morocco, classified as "at war"
Above: The entry in his Pass is simply "Deceased"
Schütz was born on the 20th of September 1888 in Kaiserslautern, which at that
time was still part of Bavarian.
1914 he journeyed to Toul where he signed a 5 year contract with the Foreign
outbreak of the war Legionnaires serving in the colonies were selected to form
“Marche Regiments” and sent to serve in Europe. Staying back to defend the
colonies were the older Legionnaires less fit to serve on the Western front and
many Legionnaires belonging to enemy nations. Those who remained were spared
the slaughter of the Western Front but were stretched to breaking point. The French
War Ministry, due to the numbers of troops left in Morocco, had ordered General
Lyautey to abandon the interior of the country and garrison the coastal
regions. Lyautey ignored these orders and kept a Military presence bordering
the dissident zones.
In 1916 the
French were fighting against dissidents in the Moroccan Middle Atlas Mountains
and the border areas to Algeria.
Schütz had transferred from Algeria to Morocco in mid-January 1916. On the 26th
April 1916 he used his rifle to commit suicide. He was buried at the military
cemetery at the Camp Dar Debebagh, bordering the city of Fez.
the state of war existing between the two countries the French Authorities
forwarded his possesions to his family in Kaiserslautern.
Franc and 50 Centimes -
pocket mirror -
pocket knife -
Military Pass -
Above: A cemetary shared by the men of the Legion and the Bat d'Af (Penal Battalions)
Above: Fez at the time of Schütz's death
Above: Entertainment in a Legion garrison
Above: The home base of the 2nd Foreign Legion Regiment in Saida, Algeria
To read an article on the Bat d'Af please click here