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Thursday 4 June, 2015
On the Gallipoli peninsula, within sight of the Helles Memorial, is a place that few people see.
It is the French Cemetery, a place of stark grey crosses, engraved with the names of men who ‘Died for France’- Mort pour la France – in an unfamiliar land far from home. Here, lie ‘Hamouda’ and ‘Bliko’. Close by is ‘Gourmand’, most likely a nickname for a man who loved his food.
Cross after cross bears a name without a surname; many of them from Morocco and Senegal – soldiers from French Colonial Africa who fought alongside Australia.
The first time I visited the cemetery, in 2012, I was approached by the gardener. “Française?” he asked hopefully. “No,” I replied, “I am Australian.” His face fell. It was clear that this cemetery receives few visitors, despite the thousands who arrive from Australia and New Zealand every year.
To historians, the stories of Australia’s ‘other allies’ are well-known. Last month, I returned to the peninsula for an academic conference in Canakkale that shared some of those stories, along with Turkish perspectives on the Gallipoli campaign.
We learnt about the ‘Indian Troops at Gallipoli’ from Professor Peter Stanley. We heard about the Newfoundlanders and the perspectives of the Russian press. The session on French Imperial Troops confirmed my experience at the cemetery: it was called ‘Forgotten Soldiers’.
Over the next few years, as we continue to mark the Anzac Centenary, we have an opportunity to remember those men.
As we remember our own losses, we can also recognise that we did not fight alone. Some 37 nationalities were drawn into the Gallipoli campaign on the Turkish side as well the Allies’.
It was a campaign that saw mateship cross cultural boundaries. The Anzacs included soldiers from Chinese, German, Russian and Irish backgrounds; it included Indigenous Australians who were treated as equals in battle, although they faced discrimination at home.
The Anzac Centenary is an opportunity to recognise the shared humanity – and inhumanity – experienced in times of war. Such experience is relevant to us all, regardless of language, culture or belief.