Susan Travers

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Susan Travers
Susan travers tisk.jpg
Born September 23, 1909
London, United Kingdom
Died December 18, 2003 (94 years of age)
Paris, France
Service/branch Flag of legion.svgFrench Foreign Legion
Years of service 1940 - 1948
Rank Adjudant-chef (Ambulance Driver)
Battles/wars

World War II

Indochina War
Awards Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur
Croix de guerre 1939-1945
Médaille coloniale
Officier de l'Ordre du Nichan Iftikhar
Médaille militaire
Relations épouse (wife) of Adjudant-Chef Schlegelmilch

Susan Mary Gillian Travers (23 September 1909 – 18 December 2003) was a Englishwoman who served in the French Red Cross as a nurse and ambulance driver during Second World War.[1] She later became the only British military woman to be matriculated in the French Foreign Legion, having also served in Vietnam, during the First Indochina War.

Early life[edit]

Travers was born in London and spent her early years in England, the daughter of Francis Eaton Travers a Royal Navy Admiral[2] and his wife Eleanor Catherine (née Turnbull).

Second World War[edit]

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Travers joined the French Red Cross as a nurse, but later became an ambulance driver with the French Expeditionary Force to Finland in 1940.[2] After the fall of France she went to London and joined the Free French under General de Gaulle. In 1941, she drove a medical doctor of the 1st Free French Division during Operation Exporter in Syria and Lebanon, during which the Allied forces invaded and seized Syria and Lebanon from the Vichy French.[citation needed] She served in the 13e demi-brigade de Légion étrangère as a driver for the medical officer, where she gained the nickname "La Miss".[2]

Travers was assigned as the driver to Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig who was serving with the British Eighth Army in North Africa. They became lovers.[2]

In late May 1942, as the Afrika Korps prepared to attack Bir Hakeim, Koenig ordered all women out of the area. The Germans attacked on 26 May. Not long after, Travers joined a convoy into the rear area and Koenig agreed to her requests to return to Bir Hakeim, since he felt the German attack was a failure.[citation needed] However, during the following fortnight, the Luftwaffe flew 1,400 sorties against the defences of Bir Hakeim, whilst four German/Italian divisions attacked on the ground. During the bombardment, a shell tore off the roof of Koenig's car, Travers, aided by a Vietnamese driver, fixed it on the spot immediately.[citation needed]

On 10 June, Travers drove Koenig's staff car during the evacuation of the camp. The column ran into minefields and German machine gun fire. Koenig ordered Travers to drive at the front of the column.[2] Travers stated:

He said, "We have to get in front. If we go the rest will follow." It is a delightful feeling, going as fast as you can in the dark. My main concern was that the engine would stall.[2]

At 10:30 on 11 June, the column entered British lines. Travers' vehicle had been hit by eleven bullet holes,[2] with a shock absorber destroyed and the brakes unserviceable.[citation needed]

Koening was promoted to the rank of general by de Gaulle and left the North African theatre for higher command and a reunion with his wife. Travers, driving self-propelled anti-tank gun, remained with the French Foreign Legion and went on to serve in the Italian Campaign and the Western Front (in France and Germany), during which she was wounded when she drove over a land-mine.[2]

Post-war[edit]

After the war, her military status was regularized and she applied to and was formally enrolled in the Légion Étrangère, as an Adjudant-chef.[2]

Travers served in Indochina. She married Legion Adjudant-chef Nicolas Schlegelmilch, who had fought at Bir Hakeim with the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion. In retirement, they lived on the outskirts of Paris. The couple are survived by two sons.[2]

In 2000, aged 91, assisted by Wendy Holden, she wrote her autobiography, Tomorrow to Be Brave: A Memoir of the Only Woman Ever to Serve in the French Foreign Legion (ISBN 0552148148), having waited for all the other principals in her life story to die before writing it.[2]

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