Raoul Monclar

1892-1964
Portrait of Raoul Monclar. Source: Order of the Liberation.

(Born 7 February 1892: Budapest, Hungary – Died 3 June 1964: Val-de-Grâce, Paris)

 

Born with the army in his blood, Raoul Magrin-Vernery happily described how at seven years old he wanted to leave his family and enlist with the Boers...

The son of a French teacher posted in Vienna, Anne Magrin, Raoul Charles was taken under the wing of a Hungarian count who looked after his intellectual and moral education. Raised in the cosmopolitan milieu of Austro-Hungarian society, the young man acquired an ease for adapting to his surroundings that would serve him throughout his lifetime. When he returned to France he was raised by his grandmother in Avison in the Doubs. After studying at the Victor Hugo school in Besançon then in a seminary college in Ornans, driven by his life-long dream to wear a military uniform, he ran away at 15 to enlist in the Foreign Legion. Too young to be recruited, he returned to school and finally embarked on his military career on 10 October 1912 when he joined the Ecole Militaire Spéciale, France's foremost military academy, in Saint-Cyr.

Graduating in 1914, in Montmirail’s year, he was propelled into the eye of the storm in the 60th Infantry Regiment: Plaine d'Alsace, Morte-Fontaine (Oise), fighting on the Ourcq and Aisne rivers, a volunteer in the Aumetzwiller offensive (Moselle), the counter-attack in the Bois d'Haumont (Bois des Caures), the offensive on the Somme, Ypres, the battle for the Butte de Tahure in Champagne.

Exhibiting extraordinary bravery, he was gassed, wounded six times and cited 11 times, including seven times to the Order of the Army. Despite having 90% disability, he was promoted captain on 24 June 1916 with the 260th IR and received the Legion of Honour.

During peace time, he was sent to overseas theatres of operations, in Odessa (1919), Syria-Palestine (1920) where his bravery earned him a new citation and the Officer's Cross of the Legion of Honour, in Algeria and in Morocco and then in Tonkin with the 5th Foreign Infantry Regiment. It was these missions that allowed him to fulfil his life’s ambition: to join the Foreign Legion, which he did in 1924.

On 23 February 1940, he quit the post of commander of the 4th Foreign Infantry Regiment in Morocco to take the helm of two marching battalions of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion, a contingent of the expedition to Norway. On 5 May he landed in Ballangen, freed Bjervik and Narvik, liberated 60 allied prisoners and captured 590 Germans. The expedition was cut short and Magrin-Vernerey was sent to Brest on 15 June. When the armistice was declared, he left France with Captain Koenig and 500 of his men to fight under the command of General de Gaulle. Promoted to colonel, he became known as Monclar (the name of a town in Tarn-et-Garonne, his family's birthplace) for Free France. In December 1940, his 13th Demi-Brigade started its journey to Africa, to Dakar, Freetown and Cameroon where he wrote a small treatise on his theory of combat, Catéchisme du Combat. The brigade was sent to Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and took part in the campaign in Eritrea alongside the Garbay battalion, taking the capital Massawa, and capturing the admiral and the general commanders-in-chief of the Italian forces. In Syria (June 1941), however, as well as refusing to participate in the rallying campaign in Gabon, he refused to join because he couldn't stand the idea of a fratricidal struggle within the French army. Appointed to brigade general in 1941, he held various commands in Great Britain and then in the Levant. He was named Companion of the Liberation.

After various missions in Algeria, Pakistan and Indochina, he was named inspector of the Foreign Legion on 25 June 1948.

Appointed to general of the army corps on 20 February 1950, and having almost reached the age limit, rather than retire Monclar volunteered to join the command of the French Battalion of Korea which he commanded until 1951 against the communist troops in North Korea.

He retired in Neuilly, on 21 October 1962, a living military legend and crowned with the glory of seventeen national and twenty-one international decorations. He was the successor to General Kienst as the Governor of the Invalides,

He held this post until his death in 1964.