Book Review – Gerry Villani [the account of Raymond Lemaire], The Crusade of a Walloon Volunteer, August 8 1941 – May 5 1945 (Self-published: Lulu, 2019)

The Crusade of a Walloon Volunteer, August 8 1941 – May 5 1945 is the memoir of Raymond Lemaire who served as a member of the Walloon Legion fighting for the Germans on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.

The book was put together by Canadian historian Gerry Villani from 11 hours of audio recordings made by Lemaire before his death in 2001.[1]

The Walloon Legion drew its volunteers from the Francophone part of Belgium. It was strongly rooted in the Rex party founded by Leon Degrelle.[2] The Rex party was a pro-monarchist, authoritarian anti-democratic Catholic nationalist movement in 1930s Belgium that could be classified as a fascist party.[3]

Degrelle helped form the Legion that was created on 8 August 1941.[4] In October of that year, it was made part of the German Army as Wallonische-Infantry Battalion 373.[5] In June 1943, it was transferred to the SS and became Friewilligen Sturmbriagde Wallonien and was expanded from a battalion to a brigade.[6] During 1944, it was made into the 28th SS Division Wallonien but remained the strength of a brigade of around 8,000 men.[7]

Lemaire joined the Walloon Legion on 8 August 1941. He became a machine gunner in the 1st Platoon of the 1st Company. He served with the unit throughout its existence, being wounded three times and finally being commissioned as a Lieutenant in March 1945. After the war, Lemaire was convicted by the Belgian authorities for treason and imprisoned.[8]

Insignia of the 28. SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division Wallonien

The most interesting part of Lemaire’s narrative are his reasons for joining and serving in the Walloon Legion and fighting for the Germans.

He joined up in 1941 because he ‘was against the political regime in Belgium’ that had been a liberal democracy before the German invasion of 1940.[9]

He ‘believed in a German victory’ as this would create a ‘better Europe’ and would be ‘an opportunity…for Belgium to claim its place…[so that one day] we would be masters of our own country just like the glorious days when our provinces were under the rule of the Dukes of Bourgongne [Burgundy] five centuries ago’.[10]

He was also strongly anti-communist and he and his comrades sought to ‘protect women and children against the barbaric hordes from the east.’[11][12]

He stresses that he was not a Nazi; stating that that volunteers like him who had served the Germans were not traitors or criminals but patriots and heroes; ‘our flag was Belgian…Never did one of us walk into battle…yelling Heil Hitler.’ .[13][14] 

How plausible is Lemaire’s apologia? It does not work well for two reasons.

Firstly, if treason is the act of betraying one’s democratically elected and legitimate national government by collaborating with a foreign occupying power by fighting in its army, then Lemaire’s actions would constitute treason.

Sleeve insignia of the Walloon Legion, incorporating the flag of Belgium rather than any distinctly “Walloon” symbolism.

Secondly, while Lemaire may have not been a Nazi party member, it is probable that he had strong affinity with its ideas, policies and values. He was a dedicated follower and admirer of Belgian fascist leader Degrelle.[16] During the war, Degrelle became a prominent Nazi collaborator during the German occupation of Belgium and became a senior SS leader towards the end of the war.[17]

Some comments made by Lemaire on Russians and Russia are similar to Nazi sentiments on race that suggest he sympathised with their prejudiced views.

For example, Lemaire said that the ‘River Dnjepr constituted the border between two worlds. On the right [east]  bank civilisation ceased to exist [i.e. the part held by the Red Army].’[18]

He wrote that the smell of men’s intestines depended on their ethnic group. He stated that those of the Mongel men, serving in the Red Army, smelt worse than those of other racial groups.[19]

Lastly, he noted that the Russians were ‘barbarians’ as they ‘were a lot closer to nature than us’.[20]

There are two challenges with this account.

Firstly, the formatting of the headings and text make locating where the introduction ends and the account begins confusing.

Secondly, there is the methodological issues about how this account was complied and obtained. Villani states that the account is based on audio recordings made by Lemaire and he translated, transcribed and put them into the published narrative. This opens the question; how much influence Villani had in interpreting Lemaire’s words? [21] Villani does not elaborate on how he managed this problem.

There is also the contradictory story about how Villani obtained Lemaire’s story. In the foreword by Martin Ridgeway Ridgeway suggests that Villani obtained Lemaire’s story by speaking to his family after his death but Villani said that Lemaire had no family.[22] 

If one can leave these problems aside then this memoir is useful and revealing account of individual combat service on the Eastern Front.

It gives the perspective of a foreign fighter who fought for the Axis cause in the German army and of an individual who, many years after he fought in the Soviet Union, was unapologetic about what he did and the reasons for it.

Lemaire is honest about the actions of himself and his unit, not glossing over incidents that may have been criminal acts or war crimes. His narrative reveals that his unit expropriated Russian civilian property, turned Russian peasants out of their home in the dead of winter, probably to certain death, and executed Soviet POWs.[23]



[1] Gerry Villani [the account of Raymond Lemaire], The Crusade of a Walloon Volunteer, August 8 1941 – May 5 1945 (Self-published: Lulu, 2019), p.230.

[2] Ibid., p.12.

[3] Ibid., p.13.

[4] Ibid., p.27.

[5] Ibid., p.28.

[6] Ibid., p.30.

[7] Ibid., p.35.

[8] Ibid., pp.222-223.

[9] Ibid., p.43.

[10] Ibid., pp.43, 220, 21.

[11] Ibid., p.64.

[12] Ibid., p.220.

[13] Ibid., p.43.

[14] Ibid., p.196.

[15] Ibid., p.46.

[16] Ibid., p.80.

[17] Accessed 4.7.21.

[18] Gerry Villani [the account of Raymond Lemaire], The Crusade of a Walloon Volunteer, August 8 1941 – May 5 1945 (Self-published: Lulu, 2019), p.57.

[19] Ibid., p.96.

[20] Ibid., p.125.

[21] Ibid., p.230.

[22] Ibid, pp.7, 230.

[23] Ibid., pp.62, 67, 80-81, 115.