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The French sector with the position of the existing cemetery overlaid as a black rectangle.
The French sector and the 'lost' Memorials
Yes, I admit that this section does not really fit with a website dedicated to Gully Ravine, but I suspect that this site will evolve anyway to cover all of the Helles area, so this can be considered a start!
Of all the facets of the Gallipoli campaign, it might be argued that the actions and contribution of French forces has received rather less attention in terms of research and commentary than others. Morto Bay is busy during the high season because of the large numbers visiting the dominating Turkish memorial at Eski Hissarlik Point, but less than a kilometre away lies an area which may well be a contender for the least frequented of the accessible parts of the peninsula.
The French held this area, on the extreme right of the line at Helles, and fighting in the vicinity of the Kereves Dere, one of the gullies which run down from Achi Baba at the extreme eastern edge of the front line, was particularly intense.
A specific interest of mine is battlefield topography and the non-
The imposing French cemetery, above, with its stark steel crosses, is a quiet counter-
Two major communications trenches began and ended in this vicinity, the Avenue de Constantinople running north eastward up to the front line, and parallel to it, the Avenue de Paris returning to the reserve areas. These are shown in the map above, running north -
Prior to travelling to the peninsula, I had spent some time overlaying contemporary trench maps onto Google Earth images of the area, and I had a series of GPS waypoints programmed into my Garmin Etrex. In fact, in the case of the communications trenches, this was hardly necessary, since their lines are still quite evident in the satellite images and simple compass bearings can be used for locating them. After ten minutes walking under the tree canopy, I came across their remains, still more than a metre deep, separated by some 6 metres, and clearly transversed in places. A number of smaller unnamed trenches intersect them. I was able to follow the avenues for some distance, until they ran out of the woodland to the east and were lost in the ploughed land beyond.
Close by was a small mystery which I had been eager to explore for a number of years. The French constructed a light railway in this sector to service their forward positions, particularly the Redoubt Bouchet. It began at a location shown on 1915 maps as ‘Snipers Wood’. Google Earth overlays revealed that the track bed ran close to a distinctive looking area of woodland which has survived the decades since 1915 almost unchanged, making its position relatively easy to locate on the ground. Intriguingly, a clear line or path crossing a field to the south of this woodland area can be seen on Google Earth, precisely where the 1915 maps show the railway track running.
Google Earth screen shot of the French sector. Note the small rectangular field toward the top of the triangle-
On my 2009 visit I took the internal flight from Ataturk airport to Cannakale, and, as a quite unexpected bonus, the aircraft crossed the peninsula on its landing approach. I had a clear view of the French sector from my window seat, and whilst I was able to identify the field in question, I was a little disappointed to see that it has been ploughed, and that there was now no sign of the mysterious line. It was quickly obvious that the Google Earth imagery was taken at a time when the field was in crop. As amateur archaeologists and field walkers will know, features beneath the surface are often revealed in dry weather by the uneven crop growth above.
It took less than 5 minutes to walk from the Avenue de Paris to the clearing. At first sight, there was nothing unusual there. The field was indeed ploughed, but it had not been planted, so I ventured a short way onto the tilled earth. From this vantage, I was then able to see the line of a narrow depression, about a metre wide, which ran across the field diagonally, precisely where the railway would have been. This feature is quite different to the remains of a trench, and it runs as straight as a die. Beyond the field to the west and east, it disappeared into trees, and time prevented further exploration. I am fairly convinced however that this is the old railway bed.
The field shown on the GE map above. It would appear that the line is created by uneven crop growth, which is very common where an archaeological feature lies under the soil. when I visited in May 2009, the field was ploughed, and a distinct straight depression could be discerned, beginning at bottom right on the photo and running diagonally. It is too shallow and straight to be the remains of a trench.To help recognition, a smaller image has been overlaid with red lines running along the sides of the depression, right.
The woods in this area are replete with the remains of trenches and dug-
The odd structure at Zimmerman's Farm. I would discover its true identify a few days later.
A few hundred metres north east of Zimmerman’s Farm lie two large embanked pits, picture below, some 5 metres wide and ten metres long. I was by no means the first to visit these, but they are well hidden and generally unknown to the casual visitor. Sadly, they are full of modern rubbish, and some commentators have even suggested that it was for this purpose that they were dug. This cannot be the case however. A quick inspection reveals trees of a respectable age growing both in the floor of the pits and in the side walls, indicating that they took root later than the digging of the pits themselves. The workings stand side by side, with the southern ends open. This is significant because their embanked opposite ends face towards the front line. They strongly suggest a storage or bunkering function, and it has been proposed that they were dug specifically for the Rolls Royce Armoured cars which were operated by the Royal Naval Division for a brief time at Gallipoli, Zimmerman’s Farm standing on the dividing line between the RND and French areas of responsibility. Contemporary photos of the vehicles in their pits appear to be from the known and documented parking area near Gully Beach however, and thus far, I have been unable to find a definite connection with the pits at Zimmerman’s Farm. It is also possible that the pits were for guns but in that case it is more likely that evidence of these heavy pieces of ordnance would still be there, as they are in other locations at Helles.
The 'known' French memorial east of Zimmerman's Farm. This is mentioned in some Gallipoli guide books. The structure is sadly neglected, although someone has taken the trouble to gather up and remount the broken parts of the outlying pillars.
In the woods to the north west of the French cemetery are two more memorials, pictures below, one now in a field, and the other just inside the treeline. Again, I am not suggesting that others have not visited these remains before, but they are apparently seldom frequented. Between the two memorials, at the edge of the woods, there are blocks of dressed stone with some remaining marble facings, perhaps from a third construction, now destroyed?
And it was here that the mysterious structure at nearby Zimmerman’s Farm suddenly fell into place. It is identical to the memorial in the field, above left, and was clearly part of a wider scheme to locate these monuments at key positions. In common with the first memorial I had visited a few days earlier, these three have had any plaques and inscriptions removed and placed in the nearby French cemetery. This took place when the main French cemetery was established in 1923 after the Treaty of Lausanne.
My research continues, and this includes links with the French Gallipoli Association (Asssociation Nationale pour Ie Souvenir des Dardanelles et Fronts d'Orient).
There is undoubtedly far more to discover in the French sector, and the areas of the redoubts further to the east will be the focus for my next visit. For the battlefield walker, this area is a rich source of small discoveries, and a contemporary trench map is an essential companion. The stillness and peace of the woodlands, as well as the history it so ably conceals, is well worth the effort of getting a little off the beaten track and exploring in detail.
I would be delighted to hear from anyone with knowledge or information about these memorials.
Vive la France!