FOLLOWING in the footsteps of the French Foreign Legion will be the subject of a talk in Galashiels on Tuesday.
Former army officer and expedition leader Richard P Jeynes is one of the speakers in the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s (RSGS) ‘Inspiring People’ talks programme over the winter.
The motorbiking archaeologist leads expeditions for amateurs – and trains others setting out on adventures – at his Trailquest company in Worcestershire.
Mr Jeynes said: “I will be talking about the Legion Project, based in south east Morocco, which is trying to find and survey the site of the French Foreign Legion forts that were built in the early 20th century, using motorbikes as part of our range of tools to access the sites and find routes to them for other vehicles.”
The programme is the first to look at the famous army’s extensive building work.
Mr Jeynes said: “There’s quite a lot of literature about the French Foreign Legion – it’s quite an iconic force and people have a general interest in it – but it’s concentrated on military history. There’s been nothing about the physical sites built by them. They did a huge amount of construction: most of the road systems in north Africa were built by them and are still in use today.
“This project combines my archaeological background, interest in history and interest in the military.”
Mr Jeynes started the Legion Project in 2008. Using a mixture of primary sources, historic mapping and aerial imagery, sites are located on the ground on motorbike by Richard’s company Trailquest and then surveyed by teams of volunteers from a range of backgrounds including archaeology undergraduates, post graduates and interested amateurs. The French Foreign Legion were used in campaigns across North Africa in the early 20th century but, as symbols of colonial conquest, the forts and outposts of the Legion were mostly abandoned by the mid-1930s.
Mr Jeynes reports on his findings annually to the French army and to Worcester and Bristol universities with whom he is working. And he will write a book on the subject in the next few years.
Mr Jeynes’ career spans the army, education and now expeditions. He studied archaeology at university then became a military intelligence officer for 15 years before training to become a teacher. He went on to be a head teacher in Plymouth, until five years ago when he stopped to concentrate on Trailquest and global expeditions.
“I was at university when the first Indiana Jones film came out: there have been two influences on my career, Indiana Jones and James Bond. I thought I’d do both of them”, he said.
He also cites the influence of his parents for his love of adventure, history and archaeology: “We used to visit prehistoric sites all over the UK from Shetland to the Scilly Isles.
“I was also influenced by Dad reading me P. C. Wren’s Beau Geste (1925) when I was about eight and I thought ‘one day I’ll go to one of these forts’.”
Work is ongoing and his company is offering places on a recce trip to sites in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco next March when he advises there will be a mixture of on and off road biking and overnight camping in the remote region.
Richard’s presentation takes place at Heriot Watt University, Scottish Borders Campus, Netherdale, Galashiels starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are available on the night from the venue and cost £8 for adults (redeemable if buying membership) and free for under 18s, students and RSGS members.
For more information about Tuesday’s and the rest of the winter’s talks visit www.rsgs.org