Love and the French Foreign Legion

The Jeopardy question/answer would be: What do Cupid and the French Foreign Legion have in common.

The answer/question would be: Who is Vincent Allemany?

*

I wanted to find out if the stories Husband related about his step-grandfather’s life were true. Indeed, I wanted to verify what little we knew about him. What I found was an individual who as a youth had found adventure first and troubles later. A hard drinker, Vincent Allemany spoke Spanish, French, English, and some Russian; he worked as a soldier, a stone mason, and a cement finisher for a construction company.

Vinnie was born in Dely Ibrahim, near Algiers, Algeria, on 18 May 1898 to Spanish parents, Francisco Vincente and Josephine Olzina Allemany. While his birth record seemed to be clear about his parents’ names, giving his mother’s name as Alfonsine Cosé, someone had corrected his mother’s names in blue pencil to Josephine Olzina. I later confirmed the correction with his Original Livre de Famille (military papers), but his marriage and death certificates agree with the original birth certificate. On his INS Declaration of Intention, he gave his mother’s name as Josephine Cosé. I discovered throughout my research that Vinnie and his family often “confused” (accidentally/on purpose) names, dates ­– especially birth dates – and origins so that primary sources don’t always agree, secondary sources offer differences again, and even information “from the horse’s mouth” isn’t reliable. Clearly, they were not people interested in giving any future historians a break.

The Allemany family lived in the French colony of Algeria in the 1890s after generations of that family had repeatedly fled Spain, the Inquisition, and its other problems, always returning until the next reason to leave. Vinnie at different times claimed to be either Spanish or French. He was right either way.

 I discovered throughout my research that Vinnie and his family often “confused” (accidentally/on purpose) names [and] dates…

We know nothing about Vincent Allemany as a child. We do know, however, that he had joined the French Foreign Legion by 1917, and Vinnie told of his service as part of the Loubignac mission to Vladivostok (Siberia) to guard the Imperial gold being transported from Petrograd because of the German threat to that city. Vinnie arrived in Vladivostok, but the gold didn’t. To my knowledge, that shipment has never been found.

After travelling from New York to San Francisco in November 1918, and on to Hawaii where they were delayed because of a typhus outbreak in Vladivostok, Vinnie arrived at his destination in March 1919. He told of what strong, violent, and heavy drinkers the Russian soldiers were, how brawls often ended in fatal stabbings, how idleness created that unstable and dangerous environment, and how glad he was that the Legion gave him the choice of returning to San Francisco. He was there by 25 October 1919, lodging (for the second time perhaps) with Louis-Henri, Marie-Anne, and Gabrielle Rouzies (age 23), all of whom had emigrated from France in 1907.

Enter Cupid, stage left, blindfolded and with a crooked arrow. By January 1920, Vincent Allemany and Gabrielle Rouzies were engaged to be married after a certain determined mother arranged a military discharge for her future son-in-law. The details of the French romance made the newspapers. On 6 January 1920, Father L. Le Bihan performed the marriage ceremony in San Francisco Mayor James Rolph’s office.

Yvonne with her parents, ca. 1940.

Sadly, the romance ended soon after. Vinnie and Gabrielle often went separate ways while always communicating for the benefit of their only child, daughter Yvonne, born on 4 December 1922. In 1930, Gabrielle and Yvonne were living with the Rochez family as “servant and lodger” and Vinnie was in New Jersey, single, Spanish, and a servant in a country club. (They might have been estranged, but they never divorced.) By the 1940s the Allemanys were together again, but for how long is unknown. Yvonne tried often to get her parents back together and finally succeeded a few years before Vinnie’s death in 1974. Both parents lived with Yvonne and her husband in their declining years. (Gabrielle died in 1991.)

The soldiers of the French Foreign Legion have always had a mixed reputation but have always been known as tough men. I’ve found one who wasn’t as tough as Cupid.

Jan Doerr

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for WBUR.org’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.

3 thoughts on “Love and the French Foreign Legion

  1. Jan, Awesome story about Vinny – You leave me wanting to know more about his life. Will there be another chapter here? I hope so. And heck, “hearsay” on the vitals, a man who saw the world, and a lost treasure that never arrives at its destination? It truly doesn’t get any better than that! – A great read Jan 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.