Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
Kelly of the Foreign Legion: Letters of
Légionnaire Russell Kelly
by Michael Kennerly
Reviewed by Jon Porter
On November 3, 1914, Russell Kelly and his
friend Lawrence Scanlan sailed from New York to Bordeaux aboard a
Canadian tramp steamer laden with 650 horses destined for the
French army. Kelly and Scanlan were destined for the French Foreign
Legion and this is a collection of Kelly's letters home to his
family, many of which were published in a New York newspaper. He
began his military training in November 1914 at the Dépôt de Lyon,
a hastily converted school house, and left for the front in
February, assigned to a newly formed régiment de Marche made up of
idealistic foreign volunteers, including four other Americans. Soon
he was in the trenches under heavy German artillery bombardment in
the 2nd Battle of Artois. By mid-May, the casualties were so severe
that his company of 250 legionnaires was reduced to 55 with all of
the company's officers killed or wounded. In his last letter home,
Kelly notes that he and his fellow soldiers "are unanimous in
wishing the war to end soon," and for Kelly, it did. He was
declared missing after the assault on Hill 119 on June 16-17, 1915.
Hs friend Scanlan, after lying wounded for fifty-six hours on the
battlefield, was rescued by a stretcher-bearer, sent to an American
military hospital in Paris, and awarded the Croix de Guerre in the
summer of 1916 for his bravery in battle. Between May 9th and June
16th, 700 officers were killed and 1,500 wounded, in addition to
the 16,000 soldiers killed, 63,500 wounded and 20,500 missing
(which, as in Kelly's case, usually meant killed) in this battle.
Kelly was officially declared killed in action by the French on
January 16th, 1917.
-Jon Porter is an instructor in the Global and Historical
Studies program at Butler University.