Remains of 17 French soldiers from World War I buried in Gallipoli

CANAKKALE, Turkey (AP) – The remains of 17 missing French soldiers who fought in the Battle of Gallipoli from World War I were handed over to French military officials on Sunday and laid to rest along with other fallen comrades more than a century after their deaths.

The remains were found during restoration work on a castle and surrounding areas on Turkey’s northwestern Canakkale Peninsula, where Allied forces fought Ottoman Turks in the fateful Gallipoli campaign, which began with landings on the peninsula on April 25, 1915.

Colonel Philippe Boulogne paid tribute to soldiers who “came to defend their homeland in this distant land, the scene of one of the most tragic episodes in our history” at the handover ceremony.

The ceremony coincided with memorial ceremonies marking the 107th anniversary of the start of the battle, commemorating French, British and other soldiers. On Monday, Australians and New Zealanders will mark Anzac Day to commemorate their fallen soldiers at a ceremony at dawn.

“Zouaves (light infantry corps) and riflemen from Senegal, Algeria, legionaries, 10,000 French and colonial soldiers fell in the front at Gallipoli,” Boulogne said. “Neither the extent of the losses nor the violence of the war diminished the bravery of these men. Their courage and their sense of sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

Only one of the 17 French soldiers – Cpl. Paul Roman, from 1st Engineer Regiment – has been formally identified.

Authorities were also able to identify three tombstones belonging to Cmdr. Galinier from the 58th Colonial Infantry Regiment and Capt. Stefani and 2nd Lieutenant Charvet from 4th Zouave, according to the French Embassy. Only their last names were given.

The Gallipoli campaign from World War I aimed to secure a naval route from the Mediterranean to Istanbul through the Dardanelles and take the Ottoman Empire out of the war. The Gallipoli landings marked the start of a tough battle that lasted for eight months.

About 44,000 Allied troops and 86,000 Ottoman soldiers died in the fighting.

Ismail Tasdemir, the Turkish official in charge of the historic site, said during the handover ceremony that the former battlefields have now become a land of “peace, tranquility and trust.”

At the soldiers’ last resting place in the French cemetery in Seddulbahir, French Embassy official Mathilde Grammont read from a message written by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – a former Gallipoli commander – to the mothers of the fallen soldiers:

Ye, the mothers that sent their sons from distant lands, wipe away your tears; your sons are now in our bosom and are at peace. After losing their lives in this land, they too have become our sons. “

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Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara.

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