Great War Association Fall Event – 2010 pt.2

December 14, 2010 - No Comments

by Jim Barnes

On the weekend of November 6, I was able for the first time, to take part in a WWI event at the GWA site at Newville, PA., thanks to the support and loan of equipment from John Pepper and Keith Allen. The group I was with, is La Legion Russe, which portrays “a machine gun company of the 1st Battalion of La Legion Russe in France in 1918.”

The background of the real ‘Russian Legion’ is probably little known to most people. According to Wikipedia, the first Russian soldiers landed in Marseille in April 1916. Before the end of the year, “General Aleksei Brusilov was responsible for the 4 Special Brigades which contributed a total of 44,319 men to the war in France.”

This force served the French well until the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the withdrawal of Russia from the war. Not surprisingly, many of the soldiers questioned why they should be in France fighting with the situation that existed in their homeland. Men in one of the Expeditionary Forces’ camps then mutined, but were put down by the soldiers in the other camp who were still loyal to their officers. “The survivors were at first sent to jail camps in North Africa and France, and after some months many were sent back to Russia, while a good number of the men integrated into French society.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Expeditionary_Force_in_France

The loyal men asked to be allowed to continue to fight and the Russian legion was formed under Colonel Gotua. They were attached to the 1st Moroccan Infantry Division. These men served with great distinction until the end of the war and were the recipients of the Legion of Honor and other awards.

The reenactment group which portrays these men seeks to duplicate as much as possible the life of Russian soldiers on the western front in the Great War. The reenactors use a combination of French and Russian kit and eat Russian food. There is always a hot pot of chai (tea) available for the cold troops.

The event itself was quite amazing. I have been to Newville for numerous WWII events, but this was different. For one thing, there were many more participants. There didn’t seem to be any large gaps in the line. The French were to our right, the American Marines to our immediate left, with the American army just past them and the British Commonwealth forces beyond them. Needless to say, there appeared to be quite a few Germans and Austrians across from us. Despite all the allied troops, somehow, German trench raiders still managed to sneak into the trenches from time to time. Give these guys credit, though, they nearly always took their hits.

Another interesting factor was the use of aircraft. A German Fokker D7 periodically straffed our trench, while two Allied Nieuport 17s frequently made the Boche duck their heads. I have heard that the Fokker crashed upon landing when it returned to its field, severely damaging the plane, but with no serious injuries to the pilot. That is certainly unfortunate, for the planes certainly put on a good show and added a lot to the atmosphere.

As I frequently do a WWII Red Army impression, this impression came fairly easy, although I had to keep reminding my self to refer to the others as ‘Brothers’ rather than ‘Comrade.” I greatly enjoyed this weekend and I think that it is safe to say that if all goes well, I will be adding yet another impression to my repertoire.

November 11, 1918.

a machine gun company of the 1st Battalion of La Legion

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