Susan Travers was an Englishwoman who served in the French Red Cross as a nurse and ambulance driver during WWII. She later became the only woman to serve in the French Foreign Legion, also serving in Vietnam, during the First Indochina War.
Susan was born was born on September 23, 1909 in London, England. She was the daughter of Francis Eaton Travers a Royal Navy admiral and his wife Eleanor Catherine (née Turnbull). They lived in England until they moved to Cannes in the south of France when Susan was a child.
According to her own memoirs, Susan never felt at home anywhere and had a lonely childhood and home life. She felt like she lived in a gilded cage with her unhappily married parents and brother.
She became what we would now call a semi-professional tennis player & while she did not earn any money from her playing, she was invited to play at tournaments around Europe. All expenses covered by her aunt, Hilda. Hilda was an independently wealthy and free-spirited. Hilda had lost her love in WWI & was very fond of Susan so provided her with a monthly allowance, allowing Susan independence from her distant & disapproving parents.
In 1939, when she was 30 years old, WWII broke out and Susan did not hesitate to join the French Red Cross as a nurse. Later, she was given the job of being an ambulance driver in Finland as part of the French Expeditionary Force. When Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, she left Finland and made her way back to England. Once in England, she joined the Free French Forces.
In 1941 Susan was attached to the Foreign Legion as a driver during the North Africa campaign in Syria. The legionnaires began calling her “la Miss.” She was willing to go wherever the French Foreign Legion went, including North Africa and to the Congo.
In 1942 her unit was sent to the fort of Bir Hakeim. Bir Hakeim is an oasis in the Libyan desert south and west of Tobruk. In May of 1942, the situation at Bir Hakeim turned grim when the Axis powers began attacking the fort. They surrounded the entire fort with minefields and panzer forces, hoping to wait out the Allies within the fort. The 1st Free French Brigade defended the fort from 26 May – 11 June against the much larger Axis forces of Panzerarmee Afrika (German forces). Unfortunately, they couldn’t defend the fort forever, so when the Allies started running low on water and ammunition, it was decided by Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig that the forces would break out of the fort under the cover of darkness.
Susan led the escape driving Koenig’s car, not stopping even after an exploded mine gave away their escape. When they finally reached the British front line, the car was riddled with bullets and had no breaks but most of the convoy made it to safety by following her path through the mines. Susan later reported that her commander told her to get in front of the column and drive as fast as she could and the rest would follow her.
Susan continued working as driver and nurse throughout the rest of WWII. She went on to serve in Italy, France and Germany driving ambulances, trucks and even a self-propelled anti-tank gun.
When the war ended, she decided to become an official member of the French Foreign Legion. Women had never before been allowed in the legion, but she deliberately left her sex off the form and her application was accepted, essentially rubber-stamped by an officer who knew and admired her. This made her the first woman in the French Foreign Legion. Susan was assigned as a logistics officer and was given the rank Chief Adjutant, the equivalent to a U.S. Sergeant Major. She was later posted to Vietnam during the First Indo-China War. She remained a logistics officer until her resignation in 1947.
Susan was awarded the Croix de Guerre, (French: “War Cross”), French military decoration to reward feats of bravery, either by individuals or groups, in the course of the two World Wars. This medal may be conferred on any member of the armed forces, on French citizens and foreigners who have been mentioned in army dispatches, and, in special cases, on military units and towns.
She also received the Military Medal, and the Legion of Honour. National Order of the Legion of Honour, is as a general military and civil order of merit conferred without regard to birth or religion provided that anyone admitted swears to uphold liberty and equality.
After WWII Susan married Legion Chief Adjutant Nicolas Schlegelmilch, who had fought at Bir Hakeim with the 13th Demi-Brigade. In retirement, they lived on the outskirts of Paris.
Susan waited until she was 91-years-old to publish her autobiography in 2000. By then both her husband, whom she met after WWII, and the lovers she had during the war had passed away. It is titled Tomorrow to be Brave: A Memoir of the Only Woman Ever to Serve in the French Foreign Legion.
Susan Travers died in Paris, France on December 18, 2003 at the age of 94. She is survived by two sons.
To this day, in September 2020, Susan Travers is the only woman to have ever been allowed to join the French Foreign Legion.
SPC Brittany Gordon
Brittany B. Gordon was born on 2 October 1988. She came from a loving family. Her father was the assistant chief of police and she was close to him. She graduated in 2006 from St. Petersburg High School in St. Petersburg, FL. Brittany attended college for a year at the University of Florida. She was interested in political science and law, but she decided to join the Army instead of continuing that path at that time.
Brittany joins the Army in January 2010 as an Intelligence Analyst (35F). She attended Basic Training at Fort Jackson, SC, and AIT, Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Huachuca, AZ. She arrives at her first duty station, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), WA, in August 2010.
There at JBLM she is assigned to the 572nd Military Intelligence Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Shout out to the Lancer Brigade. In April 2012 she deployed to Afghanistan with her brigade, but in the year leading up to the deployment, she studied everything should could on the region and country. She was very thorough with her job and her intel gathering.
Her Chief spoke about how during this deployment the Brigade commander often requested to hear her analysis. He didn’t want to talk to the seniors her wanted to talk to her. She worked at a level much higher than her paygrade.
She was amazing at her job. And she was the type of person that people were drawn to. Everyone liked her and she was always smiling. While in Afghanistan, she celebrated her 24th birthday. Many Soldiers celebrate their birthdays while they are deployed.
SPC Gordon is said to have volunteered for her last assignment. She wasn’t supposed to go on this particular assignment, but she wanted to help a junior soldier and show him the ropes. She wanted to take care of him and show him how to operate outside the wire. Even in the pictures of her on her way to that last assignment, she was smiling.
On 13 October 2012, SPC Gordon died after sustaining wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked her unit with an improvised explosive device (IED) in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
It is believed that the bomber was a member of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, but I didn’t see anything that confirmed that.
The attacker wore a suicide vest beneath his intelligence service uniform, which he detonated shortly after the delegation arrived.
Killed in the attack was SPC Brittany Gordon, another American who is identified as a former U.S. military officer/or CIA agent, the deputy intelligence director for Kandahar providence, two of his bodyguards and another Afghan intelligence employee.
It is believed that the attack wasn’t intended for the American victims, but the Afghan intelligence director.
Brittany is survived by her parents, two sisters and brother.