I am from Poland. This past weekend, I talked with my mother-in-law, who was born in 1935 in France. In 1939, right before World War II broke out, she and her family went back to Poland. I was shocked and asked why they did it. Weren't they aware that Germany could attack Poland? She answered that they were guessing that it may happen but, in case it did happen, they wanted to be eventually on the Polish side. Moreover, she said that her father's brother stayed in France and, when Germany attacked France, he had to fight on the first front. Is it true that France first used people from other countries to fight before starting to use French people?

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    It’s not like the French chose where the Germans attacked…
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 8, 2023 at 22:25
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    @JonCuster between the start of the War and the start of the invasion of France there were 8 months. Besides the side-show of Norway, there was little activity during this time.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 8, 2023 at 23:20
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    France had colonial troops, but those were only a fraction of the troops on the front. Other than that, I do not know what your mother in law was talking about, maybe you should ask her about the nationalities of those troops. And France was mostly in a defensive stance, so they "did not send them to fight first" because they basically did not send anyone to fight (they did recruit troops but kept them at defensive lines).
    – SJuan76
    Oct 8, 2023 at 23:21
  • And of course, youtube.com/watch?v=AQnEBSwdAXw
    – SJuan76
    Oct 8, 2023 at 23:27
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    when Germany attacked France then he had to fight on first front Are you asking whether when Germany attacked France in May 1940, France "first used people from other countries to fight before starting to use French people?"
    – user103496
    Oct 9, 2023 at 1:35

3 Answers 3


No, not true.

France had conscription. In case of war the army would be placed on alert and war footing, meaning that draftees were recalled to the army. Foreigners cannot be drafted. I know of no nation that drafts foreigners. That's technically next to impossible: which foreigners? Tourists? Expats? How well do they need to speak or understand French? (Foreigners who volunteer is an entirely different topic.)

Your mother may be mistaken by the French Foreign Legion. The Foreign legion recruits foreigners exclusively. Frenchmen can enlist, but must do so under a different name and nationality to serve in the ranks. All officers are French. Nearly all non commissioned officers are promoted from the ranks.

It is true that the Foreign Legion was founded to save spilling of French blood. A legionnaire who gets seriously wounded in action gets French nationality immediate. Otherwise, he can become French citizen after 3 years of service. The legion was specifically set up to save French lives in colonial campaigns, but they also fought in France itself during WW1 and WW2.

A little side note: the Dutch East Indian Army KNIL was set up for exactly the same reason: to save, in this case, Dutch lives by recruiting foreigners to do the job. The KNIL was trained in The Netherlands, but never fought there.

It's very likely your mother talked about the Polish army in France, who were refugees from Poland after the occupation by the Germans in 1939. Those were volunteers, the unit was not (as the Foreign Legion was) set up to save French blood.

  • History of the French Foreign Legion outlines that 6 regiments of FFL were deployed variously at the Somme, Soissons, Verdun, Alsace Maginot Line defenses, and Nancy in May 1940. In other words, they were distributed to multiple French and across virtually the entire front. Oct 9, 2023 at 2:54
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    Another possibility is that her uncle had been naturalized. This is how (e.g.) Wolfgang Döblin ended up in the French army.
    – Jan
    Oct 11, 2023 at 9:03
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    Re " I know of no nation that drafts foreigners." The US requires almost all males age 18-25 who live in the country to register for the draft: usa.gov/register-selective-service . No draft has been in effect since 1973, but as I understand it, if the draft were ever re-instated, all those registered could be drafted (specifics presumably would be TBD, so it is unclear what would actually happen in the case of foreign nationals).
    – njuffa
    Oct 12, 2023 at 21:58

Another event that could be simplified into this idea was the deployment of French colonial troops in the early stages of WWII (and WWI). France had a significant army in Algeria from 1830 until 1962, which contained large numbers of Algerians.

At the start of each war, troops from Algeria were shipped to France. This made perfectly good sense: France was threatened, and the units that were sent there were already in active service. That meant they could be ready to fight in France more quickly than French reservists could be called up, formed into units and got ready for action.

  • Seeing that coastal Algeria became part of France in 1848 (Wikipedia: "Algeria was a part of France from 4 November 1848 when the Constitution of French Second Republic took effect until its independence on 5 July 1962"), Algerian troops serving in the armed forces of France during both WWs would not be "people from other countries" in a legal sense.
    – njuffa
    Oct 12, 2023 at 22:06

World War II and World War I are two separate conflicts that occurred at different times. France was involved in both wars, but I'll provide some clarification:

  1. World War I (1914-1918): France was one of the major Allied powers during World War I. They did not send people from other countries to fight in World War I; instead, France and its allies had their own armies and conscripted soldiers to fight in the war. Many soldiers from France's overseas colonies, such as Algeria and Senegal, also served in the French military during WWI.

  2. World War II (1939-1945): In World War II, France was one of the early victims of the war when Germany invaded in 1940. After the fall of France, the Free French Forces, led by General Charles de Gaulle, were established. These forces included French troops who had managed to escape the German occupation and continued to fight alongside the Allies. France also had colonial troops and units from its overseas territories who contributed to the war effort.

So, in World War I, France did not send people from other countries to fight, but in World War II, they had a diverse set of forces fighting for the Free French and also had colonial troops and units from their overseas territories involved in the conflict.

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    Oct 13, 2023 at 9:42
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    Please note there is a site policy against the posting of AI generated content here.
    – justCal
    Oct 13, 2023 at 10:39
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    Not sure what WWI has to do with the question. The section on WWII is assertions without evidence. Please revise.
    – MCW
    Oct 13, 2023 at 11:13

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