Speech of Mr. Ambassador on the occasion of the Commemoration Ceremony for the 101th Anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli (April 24th 2016, French Cemetery) [fr]
Let me first of all thank you for attending the French ceremony here with us, to honor the memory of 10.000 soldiers of French troops who dropped dead on this Turkish land. They were sailors, soldiers, zouaves, Senegalese tirailleurs (infantrymen), Algerian tirailleurs (infantrymen), and legionnaires. In total, it is 80.000 soldiers from the French expeditionary forces and the French navy who came on this land and these distant waters during those 9 months of Dardanelles campaign. 2.240 of them lie inhumed here in individual tombs on this hillside facing the sea, in this cemetery inaugurated in 1930 on an area where French troops landed the first time. The others lie buried in ossuaries around us or remained where they died, lying next to their comrades in arms, but also their enemies of that time. You just had a reading of some letters and testimonies from those soldiers who were in Gallipoli. I would like to quote the example of one of them who survived those combats. It is the young Marcel MEZY who joined in December 1914 the 6th “colonial mixt regiment”. After some few months of training, he is sent to fight in Dardanelles. He took part, from the very first day on, in the though fights which aimed to take the Turkish fort of Kum-Kale, then in Seddülbahir on the Gallipoli peninsula. He would take part in many battles in this peninsula. He was wounded twice and awarded three times for his energy and bravery, though he had just turned 20. He would write later: “I fought in many other battles around the world. Nowhere else, I really mean nowhere else, did I see officers and soldiers suffering from war as much as they did in this Gallipoli peninsula. Every kind of suffering, consumed by vermin, condemned to drink a disgusting water, to live among dead bodies, to survive day and night in a cruel war. Here, a strategic retreat could not be envisaged, because, on the right, on the left, there was only the sea, always the sea.” Marcel MEZY then pursued a military career. During the Second World War, he would join the free French forces and would participate in the liberation of France in 1944-1945.
This testimony helps us to remember how inhuman the situation was, not only for the French but also for all the other soldiers fighting in the peninsula. It also helps us to remember that their bravery and their sense of sacrifice deserves our respect. Let us be, in a climate of peace, as brave and generous as they were in this battle.
You are well aware that for France the Gallipoli Campaign is only a single episode of the First World War. While the Battle of Gallipoli was ending, Germans were already getting ready to attack France in the Verdun region. The year 1916 would therefore see, on the West front, two battles that profoundly marked the French’s landscape and the families of millions of soldiers. It is first the Verdun’s battle where casualties would rise at 70 000 in both sides. Then, the Somme battle where casualties would be beyond a million. In this offensive, South-Africans, Australians, British, Canadians, Irish and New Zealanders fought with us. Some of them had already gone through the Battle of Gallipoli and they would return back in France under the deluge of fire and the trench’s mud.
We are commemorating today those who fell on this peninsula between March 1915 and January 1916. Soon, the next 29 May, several of our nations will also gather for the centenary of the Verdun’s battle and the first of July, in Tiepval, for the centenary of the Somme’s battle.
All of these ceremonies remind us, as I was saying this morning in front of the Turkish monument, how much it is important to give this legacy to the young generations. A legacy of fraternity in battles, a legacy of reconciliation in the peace.
In a few moment, the representatives of some countries will lay a wreath at the foot of our monument. Beyond this symbolic gesture, it is all of you that are honoring with your presence with us this morning, the memory of our soldiers that remained forever in this land.
I thank you all for coming here today to show your respect to their sacrifice and your willingness to keep the memory of them.