Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, December 10, 2018

France at Gallipoli

A French Artillery Crew with Some Australian Visitors
on the Cape Helles Front

It is often forgotten that the French made a major contribution at Gallipoli. On the first day of the landings their forces sent to capture Kumkale on the Asian side were the only troops to accomplish their objective. When moved across the straits they held down a good part of the Allied right flank at Helles through the fall of 1915. Things were basically stagnant all along the Cape Helles sector. As French soldier  Arnaud Pomiro wrote home, "So it’s siege warfare, or if one prefers, trench warfare, exactly as on the French front. I see no end to it."

General Gouraud After a Successful Operation

The French troops, however, were considered something of a weak link until placed under the command of General Henri Gouraud, a future "Western Front star," who arrived in May. It was Gouraud who organized the limited, but impressive, advance by French units on 21 June 1915.  His men, though, soon lost their gifted commander. On 30 June 1915, Gouraud became one of the highest-ranking officers of the war to be wounded. He lost an arm and broke both legs as a result of being hit with numerous fragments from the explosion of an artillery shell. The effectiveness of the French forces around Cape Helles diminished noticeably after his evacuation when he was replaced by a general of lesser caliber.

French Cemetery at Cape Helles

The sacrifices of the 42,000 metropolitan and colonial French soldiers that served at Gallipoli is honored at a cemetery and memorial above S Beach where there are over 2,000 graves and four ossuaries with 3,000 skeletons each. Fully one third of the troops France deployed to Gallipoli found their final resting place there. 


  1. I visited this cemetery while on Mike's 2010 tour of the Gallipoli battlefields. My lasting impression of the French cemetery at Cape Helles is that it is probably the loneliest place that I have ever been. I had the distinct impression that other than whoever maintains the cemetery, my group was the first people to visit in a long time. I took some comfort in the fact that the men in the Commonwealth cemeteries are remembered a century on (I saw numerous pictures of babies and notes to "Great Uncle xxx" left on CWGC graves). The men in the French cemetery seem to have been forgotten - I don't recall seeing any notes or remembrances on any of the gravesites. While I understand that Gallipoli is almost a footnote in French history when compared to the battles of the Western Front, this made me sad and the futility of the Gallipoli campaign really struck home here. When I think of Gallipoli, I always try to send out a good thought for the fallen soldiers of the Corps Expeditionnaire d'Orient.

    1. Wow. That sounds epically remote, deeply sad. Thank you for the sketch, Rob.