Determination in a Woman of the French Foreign Legion
I look now at
aspects of the life of Susan Travers, who, at a crucial time in
history, had a beautiful determination to work against Fascism as a
volunteer military driver in the North African Campaign during World
War II. Ms. Travers is now 92 and lives in Paris. She is
the only woman ever to serve in the French Foreign Legion, and her
life, which is very rich, is representative of the two kinds of
determination women go after.
Susan Travers was born September 23, 1909 in Devon, England, amidst
great wealth. She and her brother, Lawrence, were tutored at
home, and shehad nurses who washed, dressed and fed her. She
tells in her autobiography Tomorrow to Be Brave, written with
Wendy Holden, that she "was forced into the most awful bonnets,"
...(slide) that she was more interested in seeking adventures.
Aesthetic Realism shows that we come to have impressions of the whole
world through the persons we meet early. Growing up, she'd never
been close to her mother, who she observed, was often sad and
reclusive. Her father, retired from the British Navy, was often
irritable at home. Ms. Travers writes that he "almost certainly
married her [mother] for her money," and later didn't have much to do
with her. As many couples do, they led separate lives.
Though her father encouraged her avid interest in literature, and told
her about the great seascapes he'd seen, she was hurt by how he would
often dismiss her abruptly. I think she was mixed up by how her
parents were both warm and cold, near and distant, and felt the world
seemed confusing and unreliable. Meanwhile, she was, as Mr.
Siegel described, "in a great contest between the victory of scorn for
reality and the victory of caring for it ever increasingly."
Writing about attending boarding school in Canne, France she says:
always been a loner, and I didn't really know how to interact with
children my own age....all the other girls were beastly. The
teachers were unkind and the matron, Mrs. Buckle, was a dragon...I was
miserable and...hardened my heart and,...prayed for the day when I
could...be in control of my own destiny.
Though a girl may have accurate criticisms, she can be determined to be
displeased with everything. I certainly was. In an
Aesthetic Realism consultation, Susan Travers might be asked:
you try to know any of the girls deeply? Perhaps there were girls
there who also felt they didn't know how to interact with other
children. When you say you'd always been a loner, is that a
"nice" way of saying you felt you were superior to everyone else?
After attending finishing school in Florence, she resolved to leave, in
her words "the humdrum reality of [her]...life" and she began to pursue
men as her "ticket to...wealth, and happiness," determined as she put
it to "use my charms to my greatest advantage."
Between 1929 and 1939, she went after "a heady decade of socializing"
across Europe, "embarking," she writes "on several affairs with wholly
unsuitable men." Instead of wanting to know, she flattered
and patronized the men she dated, and this made for great inner
turmoil. She writes:
my great dismay, none of the men I fell in love with ever asked me to
marry them....I would have accepted a proposal just for... financial
security....It was a road to self-destruction.
I think what Ellen Reiss writes of another woman as to a man in The Right Of, describes
the young Ms. Travers: "She was determined; but the nature of her
determination made her careless where she shouldn't have been."
In an early class I attended with Eli Siegel, when I asked him what
good will for a man would mean, he explained:
will] is the wanting, through your effort, to have the person you're
talking to, in your eyes and [reality's], a better and stronger
person....The desire to be just is deep, but it's made boring in terms
of ordinary life....When a person is born the question is, "How can I
be fair to persons around me?"
Susan Travers needed so much to hear this.
A Right Determination
By the summer of
1939, reservists were being mobilized throughout Europe, and war seemed
imminent. Just a year later, Hitler's armies, determined to
conquer all of Europe and the world, and subjecting human beings as
they went along to the worst atrocities in history, swiftly overtook
France. The Vichy Government was formed, and actively endorsed
Germany's brutal, fascist policies against their own people.
Shocked by France's capitulation, Susan Travers was determined "to do
something of value on the front lines." When she heard a powerful
broadcast by General Charles de Gaulle, calling for all French soldiers
and others to join with his 'Free French,' saying that "the flame of
the French resistance, must not go out" she went to his headquarters in
London and joined the French Foreign Legion heading to West
Africa. She was determined in behalf of justice. She tells
of seeing herself in the mirror: (slide)
were...the fancy hats, fine silks and chic Parisian suits....My new
attire was, I realized with a strange sense of satisfaction, far more
appropriate to the person I really was....France and the free world
[were] at stake.... For the first time...,I felt truly alive and part
of something much bigger than my immediate horizons.
In June 1941 she became General Marie-Pierre Koenig's driver, who, she
wrote "[was] the type of man who led his troops into battle
personally. I was thrilled." As the only woman, she
was given the name "La Miss" by her company. Once when driving
Koenig, she came to a bridge, and was warned by an officer of its
danger, but she was bravely determined:
the first vehicle across since it's been mined... Would you like one of
my men to drive..."No, thanks. I'll manage."...I rolled across with
barely enough room for my wheels to pass between the rows of
sandbags. The sweat drenched my shirt and the unnatural beating
of my heart left me in no doubt that I was far from the heroine they
thought me to be.
Some weeks into her new job, she began to feel an overwhelming
lethargy, and was hospitalized with severe hepatitis. But the
thing she worried about most was her job, and she wrote to her parents
"I hope to be of more use to those on the front lines."