Front Page
Whats New
Search the Site!!
For Sale
Guest Book
The Kaisers Cross
Fake Documents.
Which Unit?
Uniforms + Militaria
The Raiders
In the Trenches
Mobile warfare
The Casualties
65 FAR, Somme
The "Cafard"
9. B.I.R., Flanders
26 R.D. Somme
Prinz Adalbert 1
Prinz Adalbert 2
60 I.R. Missing Vaux
120. LIR Verdun
171 R.I. Verdun
Gas Purple Heart
Alpenkorps, Verdun
Kindermord in Ypern
Emil Engert, Verdun
The Fearless Captain
Lt Sperber loses a leg
Destruction of Orchies
Dr Erbse "Creepy Wood"
The Battles
The German Army
Bavarian Army Photos
The Weapons
Photo Corner
The Croix de Guerre
The Men
German DSWA
South Africa: WW1 in Africa
Harry's Africa
Harry's Sideshows...
Stars and Hearts
Freikorps Documents
French Colonial Awards
GSWA History 1914-15
The Boer war
British Groups
Research Links
Assorted maps/Photos
Whats New to end mar
GMIC Newsletters
The EK1

Although 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”.

Often translated as “Having the blues” the term apparently originates in Beaudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du mal” first published in 1857.

The “Cafard” 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.

In a 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.

During WW1 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

His madness 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)

In August 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.

“The 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 lines.

The old chiefs of the Legion feel the change in the atmosphere long before any tangible proof of the "cafard" has shown itself.

Trifling 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.

What 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 better.

Others favor rest and a complete relaxation of authority. I suppose the shrewdest await events, bending later to the storm.

It is 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 of them.

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"

Charles Schütz was born on the 20th of September 1888 in Kaiserslautern, which at that time was still part of Bavarian.

In February 1914 he journeyed to Toul where he signed a 5 year contract with the Foreign Legion.

At the 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.

Legionnaire 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.

Inspite of the state of war existing between the two countries the French Authorities forwarded his possesions to his family in Kaiserslautern.

-          One Franc and 50 Centimes
-          One pocket mirror
-          One pocket knife
-          One Military Pass
-          One Dogtag

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
Zeile 2
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