By MEHMET GUZEL and SUZAN FRASER – Associated Press
CANAKKALE, Turkey (AP) — The remains of 17 missing French soldiers who fought in the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I were handed over to French military officials on Sunday and laid to rest alongside other fallen comrades more than a century after their death.
The remains were found during restoration work on a castle and its surroundings in Turkey’s northwest Canakkale peninsula, where Allied forces fought against the Ottoman Turks during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign that took started with landings on the peninsula on April 25, 1915.
Colonel Philippe Boulogne paid tribute to the soldiers “who came to defend their homeland on this distant land, the scene of one of the most tragic episodes in our history” during the handover ceremony.
The ceremony coincided with commemorations marking the 107th anniversary of the start of the battle, during which French, British and other soldiers are commemorated. On Monday, Australians and New Zealanders will mark Anzac Day to remember their fallen soldiers in a dawn ceremony.
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“Zouaves (light infantry corps) and skirmishers from Senegal, Algeria, legionnaires, 10,000 French and colonial soldiers fell at the front at Gallipoli,” Boulogne said. “Neither the scale of the losses nor the violence of the war diminished the bravery of these men. Their courage and sense of sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Only one of the 17 French soldiers – Cap. Paul Roman, of the 1st Engineer Regiment — has been positively identified.
Authorities were also able to identify three headstones belonging to Cmdr. Galinier of the 58th Colonial Infantry Regiment, and Captain Stefani and 2nd Lieutenant Charvet of the 4th Zouaves, according to the French Embassy. Only their surnames were provided.
The Gallipoli campaign of World War I aimed to secure a naval route from the Mediterranean Sea to Istanbul through the Dardanelles and lead the Ottoman Empire out of the war. The Gallipoli landing marked the beginning of a fierce battle that lasted eight months.
About 44,000 Allied soldiers and 86,000 Ottoman soldiers died in the fighting.
Ismail Tasdemir, the Turkish official in charge of the historic site, said at the handover ceremony that the former battlefields have now become a land of “peace, tranquility and trust”.
At the soldiers’ final resting place in the French cemetery of Seddulbahir, Mathilde Grammont, head of the French embassy, read a message that the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – a former commander of Gallipoli – wrote for the mothers of fallen soldiers:
“You mothers who have sent their sons from distant lands, wipe away your tears; your sons now rest in our bosom and are at peace. After losing their lives on this earth, they also became our sons.
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara.
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