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Foreign Legion (France): Colours

Part 1

Last modified: 2009-12-12 by ivan sache
Keywords: foreign legion | honneur et fidelite |
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Early colours of the Foreign Legion

The history of the colours of the French Legion is related by Claude Girard on the FARAC website

In 1832, Henri of Orléans, Duke of Aumale, required from his father, King Louis-Philippe, the grant of a colour to the recently created Foreign Legion. On 24 June 1832, Colonel Combes took the command of the Legion and unveiled the colour, which bore on the obverse "LE ROI DES FRANÇAIS À LA LÉGION ÉTRANGÈRE" (The King of the French to the Foreign Legion) and on the reverse "HONNEUR ET PATRIE" (Honour and Fatherland). In 1841, the Legion was split into two regiments; the 1er RLE (1er Régiment de la Légion étrangère, 1st Regiment of the Foreign Legion) was granted the colour of the Legion. A few years later, the 1er RLE was granted a new colour, bearing "LE ROI DES FRANÇAIS AU PREMIER RÉGIMENT DE LA LÉGION ÉTRANGÈRE" and "VALEUR ET DISCIPLINE" (a motto created in 1803 by First Consul Bonaparte), respectively.

In March 1848, following the proclamation of the Second Republic, the finial of the colour was changed, Louis-Philippe's rooster being replaced by a revolutionary spearhead. On 17 December 1848 in Oran (Algeria), Colonel Pélissier granted a new colour to the 1er RLE, bearing "RÉPUBLIQUE FRANÇAISE / PREMIER RÉGIMENT DE LA LÉGION ÉTRANGÈRE" and "VALEUR ET DISCIPLINE", respectively. Another source (Historama, HS No. 3, November 1967) claims that the colour also bore the motto "UNITÉ, LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ".
On 10 May 1852, all the army colours were changed (see P. Charrié [chr92]). The obverse of the colour of the 1er RLE bore "LOUIS NAPOLÉON AU 1ER RÉGIMENT DE LA LÉGION ÉTRANGÈRE"; the spearhead was replaced by an eagle. The motto on the reverse was not changed but, for the first time, battle awards were added, recalling the "pacification" of North Africa:


The obverse of the colour of the 2e RLE bore "LOUIS NAPOLÉON AU 2E RÉGIMENT DE LA LÉGION ÉTRANGÈRE"; the spearhead was replaced by an eagle. The motto on the reverse was not changed but, for the first time, battle awards were added, recalling the "pacification" of Northern Africa:


In 1854, following the proclamation of the Second Empire by Napoléon III, the motto on the obverse of the colour was changed to "L'EMPEREUR NAPOLÉON AU 1ER RÉGIMENT ÉTRANGER", also reflecting the change in the name of the regiment (1er RE) and in the structure of the Legion.
In 1855, the Legion was split again into two regiments, which should have each been granted a flag bearing the awards from the Crimean War "ALMA 1854" and "SÉBASTOPOL 1855". The two regiments were, however, disbanded before the flags could have been manufactured.
Reestablished on 16 April 1856, the 1er RE was granted the colour that should have been granted to the 1st Regiment of the 2nd Foreign Legion. The reverse of the flag did not bear any battle award. The 1er RE was disbanded on 1 January 1862 and its colour was transferred to the Artillery Museum.

[Legion colour]

Foreign Legion's provisory colour, 1870-1880 - Image by Ivan Sache, 26 October 2009

After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, the colour of the Legion was abolished. Colonel Malleret ordered to manufacture a provisory colour, which was used until the grant of new colours to all the army regiments on 14 July 1880. The colour, kept in the Legion Museum of Aubagne, is a square tricolor flag with the gilded writing "RÉGIMENT ETRANGER" in the white stripe.
On 14 July 1880, the reestablished Foreign Legion was granted a colour with the motto "VALEUR ET DISCIPLINE" and the following battle awards:

to which EXTRÊME-ORIENT (Far East) was added in 1897. There was no number in the crowns on the obverse.
The Legion was resplit into two regiments in 1884, each awarded a colour with the battle awards listed above.

On 13 September 1915, the 1er RM 1er RE (Premier Régiment de marche du Premier Régiment étranger) was granted a flag, whose reverse bore the motto "HONNEUR ET PATRIE", like the colours of all fighting units in the French Army.
On 30 November 1920, all the regiments of the Foreign Legion were awarded new colours with the motto "HONNEUR ET FIDÉLITÉ", which was, more or less, the motto of the Swiss regiments serving France in the Ancient Regime (for instance, the Regiment of Diesbach bore from 1689 to 1792 "Fidelitate et Honore").

Ivan Sache, 26 October 2009

Modern colours of the Foreign Legion

The modern colours (called in France drapeaux for infantry regiments and étendards for cavalry regiments) of the Foreign Legion follow the pattern used for the other regiments of the French army. They all bear the motto "HONNEUR ET FIDÉLITÉ", instead of "HONNEUR ET PATRIE", and the award "CAMERONE 1863". Officialized by Decree of 4 October 1963, this award recalls the heroic resistance of less than 60 legionnaires commanded by Captain Danjou in Camerone, Mexico, on 30 April 1863. The 30 April is the Legion's day, in which the "official" Story of Camerone is read during a military review attracting some 10,000 visitors at the Legion's headquarters in Aubagne.
The Legion was granted the privilege to keep the colours of the disbanded regiments and the old colours of the active regiments. These colours are stored by the Foreign Legion Museum, inaugurated at Aubagne on 29 April 1966, a sample of them being exhibited in the crypt of the museum.

The company and squadron pennants are, on the obverse, divided red-green according to the descending diagonal, on the reverse with the statutory colours according to the unit number. The pennants are decorated with the main symbol of the Legion, the seven-flamed grenade. Officially adopted in 1874, the grenade was often submitted to slight modifications in its design. Several pennants are shown in the Foreign Legion Museum.
As an example, the Maison du Légionnaire, set up in the 1930s at Auriol, near Marseilles, to house the veterans of the Legion, has a red-green pennant charged with the grenade and the gilded writing "MAISON / DU LÉGIONNAIRE".

Ivan Sache, 25 October 2009