He had dark hair and eyebrows like thick slashes of marker pen and a grave somewhere in Palestine. Roger Coudroy died at 35-years-old and remains a minor martyr for people who lean so far to the right they’re practically horizontal.
The first European to die for the Palestinian cause, say the blog headlines. Not exactly. Germans and Bosnians and Britons are buried under Arabic pseudonyms out in the desert, volunteers for Muslim armies during the 1948 fighting that gave birth to Israel. Coudroy belongs to a later generation.
The Belgian engineer died in the night of 3 June 1968, apparently when Israeli soldiers shot up a commando from the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It was the opening days in the war of attrition that followed Arab defeat in the Six Day War. Palestinian guerrillas penetrated Israeli territory and launched terror attacks on civilians; Israeli planes bombed PLO camps in Jordan and took out Egyptian infrastructure.
The Palestinian cause had a lot of support from young leftists in Western Europe and regimes in the Eastern Bloc. But Coudroy wasn’t a man of the left. Not a chance.
Adwa was a scar on Italy’s heart. Back in 1896 this parched market town in the north of Ethiopia saw the Italian Army humbled by warriors with swords and spears. Politicians in Rome thought they could carve an empire out of the last independent nation in Africa. Ethiopian warriors killed 7,000 men in one day and ended that dream.
The Italians wanted revenge. In 1935 they got it. The land of Dante and Caravaggio was now a boisterously aggressive Fascist state under Benito Mussolini. Provocations at the border late the previous year led to war talk and demands for compensation. European powers tried to intervene but could not afford to alienate Mussolini, needed onside to counter-balance the growing threat of Nazi Germany. In October Italian Fascist legions kicked aside the half-hearted diplomacy and marched into Ethiopia. Bombs, bullets, and mustard gas started raining down.
Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie knew his country was poor and underdeveloped. He needed expert foreign help. Forty foreigners ignored League of Nations resolutions on non-intervention and came to Addis Ababa to fight. Another sixty joined medical units or found other roles. The international press corps gathered in Addis Ababa wrote them up as heroes.
A few mercenaries were honest. A few were competent. The rest was a crazy gang of playboys, Nazis, and black crusaders who could barely shoot straight. Here’s a selection from my book Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or amazon.com].
In earlier posts we looked at foreign volunteers who found their way into the separatist militias of Eastern Ukraine. Most popular was a five-part interview with a well-informed Serbian contact who took us on a deep dive into the activities of his fellow countrymen.
He got back in touch recently with information about a extremist French organisation that supplied volunteers to the separatists for its own political ends. Some were hardened soldiers, others green recruits.
There’s a Serbian connection and a lot of infighting, so buckle up for backstabbing and paranoia in the ranks of Unité Continentale. As always, my interviewee’s opinions are his own. If you have any information about the situation in Novorossiya then please get in touch.
The house at rue Defacqz 71 is thin as a bread stick and pretty as that girl you used to love. Planted four storeys high on a wide side street branching off Brussels’ prestigious avenue Louise, it has a red brick frontage and decorative graphic panels by Adolphe Crespin.
This tall drink of art nouveau was designed by famed Belgian architect Paul Hankar back in 1893 and served as his private home until he passed through the veil of death at the turn of the twentieth century. These days number 71 looks shabbier than in its prime, but is still a fine example of what a Belgian architect can do with money and imagination to spare.
In the morning of 1 September 1944 the locals found two Russian men dead on the pavement outside. They’d been shot with a submachine gun. We’re still not sure who killed them.
The Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large slab of green in the Etterbeek district of Brussels. It is home to some museums, a lot of statues, and a triumphal arch. Foreigners like the park and crowd it out on Belgium’s rare sunny weekends.
Buried in a corner behind hedges and an overshadowing building is a shiny grey stone wall and a monument of an arching pilot reaching for the sky. The wall records all the Belgian airmen who have died in military service since the first biplane wobbled into the sky over the country back in 1908. In the section for the dead of the Second World War is the name R. de Hemricourt de Grunne.
The neatly carved white letters hide a story not many know. Comte de Hemricourt de Grunne was a war hero and aristocrat, but he was also one of only fifty Belgians who fought for General Franco’s right-wing nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War. Short, dark, and bushy browed, the Belgian playboy abandoned a life of idle luxury to fight a personal crusade against a foreign government in a foreign land.
Some men live like heroes. James Horowitz did school at West Point, flew fighter jets in the Korean War, wrote screenplays for Hollywood, skied in Aspen, loved in Paris, and knew film stars as friends. He wrote novels as James Salter that ached with sex and loss. Burning the Days is his autobiography.
Americans who write about books for a living call Salter a great prose stylist, a literary giant, a master. Whether you agree depends on your tolerance for misty poetics and heartfelt vagueness. Here’s a slice of prose:
‘A woman, burnished by the sun, walks down the street in early morning carrying an eel. Many times I have written of this eel, smooth and dying, dark with the mystery of shadowy banks and, on that particular day, covered with bits of gravel. The eel is a saint to me, oblivious, already in another world.’
If that makes your heart throb then this is the book for you. Those already frowning should steer clear.
A few weeks back I wrote a post about a Serb mercenary who fought in Ukraine and died in Syria. Someone got in touch with more information. An interview came out of it.
My interviewee is a well-informed Serbian observer of the events in East Ukraine. He prefers to remain anonymous. His opinions are his own; feel free to comment or message me if your own views differ.
In the first part of the interview we talked about Bratislav Zivkovic’s activities in the Crimea and the media storm when he returned home. In parts two and three we looked at Serb sniper Dejan Beric who became a celebrity with his YouTube videos. Part four dealt with Zack Novak and other English-speakers working on Novorossiya’s propaganda campaign. Part five looked at the various motivations that drove Serbs to Novorossiya.
We’re coming to the last few sections of the interview. Here we talk about how media controversies, rumours of assassination plots, and mistreatment by separatist authorities led to many Serb volunteers returning home.