1870 and the ‘Legion of Death’

(Rob Morgan submits the following query to the readership.)

One of the finest stories to come out of the Franco-Prussian War, Guy de Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif,” begins with the rout of the French army and its withdrawal across the Seine:

“For several days in succession remnants of a defeated army had been passing through the town…. Guerrilla units with high-sounding names, the ‘Death or Glory Boys,’ the ‘Diehards,’ the ‘Legion of Death’ passed through, looking like brigands.

Their officers, ex-drapers or corn-merchants and men who had sold lard or soap, were soldiers only by force of circumstances; chosen to command owing to the length of their bank-balances or of their moustaches, armed to the teeth, wearing the red flannel waist-band of their rank and plastered with stripes….”

De Maupassant served in the war of course, and knew what he was writing about; he was in the retreat.  The all too brief description he gives of rank embellishments on these last-ditch warriors is intriguing, and I wondered if a member could explain it? In fact, I have in mind the table-top re-creation of an 1870 guerrilla band; the idea appeals to me as a preferred skirmisher, at least on land! My knowledge of the French around that year being better afloat than ashore, of course!

The “Garibaldi” Franc-Tireur units of the Vosges were the subject of a very fine article in Military Modelling back in the 1980s, and I do have a copy, but it isn’t that splendid force which appeals to me. I’d like to create a small band, say 20 or so figures, of the “Diehard” type in de Maupassant’s story. It seems likely that among the SWA members there’ll be several people with a fair knowledge of these little groups, and who may know something more of their activities. More than that, perhaps there’s a member who will be able to suggest a range or two which contains figures suitable for the purpose. My preferred scales are 15mm and 20mm when I do manage to concentrate on soldiery rather than ships, but any suggestions in other scales would be valuable. Conversion options too, might help, if there are any. Presumably none of these gallant fellows would have been horsemen? Or were there some mounted groups in existence?

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