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A LEGION PARA IN ALGERIA Tony Hunter-Choat's War, 1957-62
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Tony Hunter-Choat had a long and distinguished career in the British Army, including as CO of 23rd SAS Regiment. This book tells the story of his formative years as a paratrooper with the elite 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (1st REP) of the French Foreign Legion between 1957 and 1962 before he joined the British Army. In March 1957 the 21 years old Tony Hunter-Choat took the momentous decision to abandon his architectural studies which he was close to completing and join the Foreign Legion. He pawned his few possessions of value and used the proceeds to pay for his passage to Paris to enlist. In the training that followed he excelled and was selected for para training before joining the 1st REP, considered an elite unit not just in the Foreign Legion but throughout the French Army. Thus began an adventure which thrust him into the forefront of perhaps the most savage of post Second World War wars of decolonisation and end of the European empires. He quickly proved his worth and became the youngest NCO in the Foreign Legion. In little more than two and a half years he had been promoted to Sergeant. The period of Tony’s service saw him involved in ferocious combat; combat which resulted in three awards of the Croix de la Valeur Militaire, the Médaille Militaire and in due course appointment as Commander of the Légion d’Honneur – a singular achievement for a Briton. Tony served during a turbulent time for France, with the return to power of General de Gaulle in the face of the threat of a military coup d’état and the Generals’ Putsch against de Gaulle in 1961. Tony was heavily involved in the Putsch with his regiment, which was disbanded as a consequence of its key role. The book is based on Tony’s memoir. A memoir which is modest but paints a vivid picture of combat in the Algerian War, it also gives a most interesting, and at times amusing, insight into the values of the Legion and the everyday life of a legionnaire. As a French general said at Tony’s memorial service it was during his life in the Legion that: ‘… through hardship and comradeship he learnt the hard way to be a man you can rely on: loyal, faithful, terrible to his enemies, generous to his friends.’ However, to understand Tony’s story it needs to be seen within the context of the Algerian War. Thus, Tony’s memoir is woven into an account of the political and military events of the time. Also, since many of the officers and NCOs with whom Tony served were battle-hardened veterans who came to the Algerian War fresh from the disastrous French defeat in Indochina, the book summarises the exploits of the regiment in Indochina, Suez and Algeria up until Tony joined it in late 1957.