Gallipoli: a memory shared by France and Australia [fr]
The French expedition to Gallipoli, organised jointly with the British High Commander, should have been an exceptional expedition in the course of the Great War. Its aim was the quick dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire by landing in the Dardanelles and taking over Constantinople. Consequently, the French Government was expecting a colonial-type expedition: the troops were made up of “Zouaves” – i.e. European light infantry regiments from Algeria, and Senegalese “Tirailleurs” – i.e. indigenous soldiers from West Africa.
On 25 April, side by side with the Australians and the British troops, the Zouaves and the Senegalese Tirailleurs landed in Gallipolli, under heavy fire from Turkish troops equipped with German artillery. In a few days, the fighting had frozen into trench warfare only 5km from the beach; trenches and barbed wires hindered access to Constantinople, whilst the infamous “Orient Express” Cannon retaliated against the 75 Cannon.
Counting on a quick and short war to weaken Prussia by depriving them of one of their allies, and to distribute the spoils of the Ottoman Empire, the British and the French found in Gallipoli warfare that was identical to that in the Western Front, and that was to be called the Eastern Front: Gallipoli thus became an integral part of the Great War.
In May 1916, the French troops started retreating progressively to join the fighting in Macedonia and then Sebastopol in 1919 against the Bolsheviks, whilst the Australians left for Marseille and the battlefields in the Somme that they reached in March 1916.
Gallipoli marked the first encounter of the French and Australian troops during World War I: battles, mourning, Ottoman prisons for the war prisoners, but also swims in the sea… many memories were shared by the French and the Australians on the shores of Gallipoli and under fire from the Turkish troops!
Despite comparable human casualties, France and Australia have opposed memories of Gallipoli: a founding event to the Australian nation, the Dardanelles remain neglected in French national memory. European soldiers from Algeria and Senegalese Tirailleurs have only found their place in France’s memory since the Commemoration of the World War I Centenary.