Susan Travers

From Academic Kids

Susan Travers (September 23, 1909 - December 18, 2003) was a British citizen and daughter of a Royal Navy admiral who, during World War II, was informally part of the French Légion Étrangère and became the chauffeur for Free French General Pierre Koenig. Prior to the war, she was a semi-pro tennis player. For her actions in the Battle of Bir Hakeim (1942), Travers was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

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Early war

Prior to the invasion of France (1940), Travers served as an ambulance driver in Finland. By 1941, she was the chauffeur for a medical officer of the Légion Étrangère, during the Syrian campaign in which Vichy French legionnaires fought Free French legionnaires. She then travelled to North Africa via Dahomey and the Congo (where she went on a crocodile hunt).

Bir Hakeim

In late May 1942, as the Afrika Korps prepared to attack Bir Hakeim, General Koenig ordered Travers and other females out of the area. The Germans attacked on May 26. Not long later, Travers joined a convoy into the rear area and Koenig agreed to her requests to return to Bir Hakeim, as he felt the German attack was a failure. Over the next two weeks, the Luftwaffe flew 1,400 sorties against the defenses of Bir Hakeim, whilst 4 German/Italian divisions attacked. During the bombing, shrapnel tore a hole in the General's car and Travers (with the assistance of a Vietnamese driver) carried the part to a field workshop where mechanics fixed it.

On June 10, Travers drove the General's staff car (a Ford) during the retreat. The retreating column ran into minefields and German machine gun fire. Koenig ordered Travers to drive at the front of the column. Travers states, "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." At 1030, on June 11, the column entered British lines. Travers' vehicle had been hit by 11 bullets and not only was a shock absorber destroyed, but the brakes had also ceased functioning.

The rest of WWII and the post-war years

Later in the war, Travers would be wounded when Koenig drove over a mine. She went on to serve in Italy, France, and Germany, where she drove an ambulance, truck, and self-propelled anti-tank gun. After the war she was formally enrolled in the Légion Étrangère, as an Adjutant Chef. Travers served in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. She married Adjutant Chef Nicolas Schlegelmilch, who had fought at Bir Hakeim with the 13ème Demi-Brigade. As of 2000, she was living near Paris, France.

In 2000, at the age of 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, having waited for all the other principals in her life story to die before writing it.

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