Many french soldiers were killed in the campaign of Cilicia, or died of disease, especially in those of Class 18 (born on 1898), who arrived there first. In those who have returned, how many have had descendants?
Since the beginning of my research (2005), I was able to have contact with less than a dozen descendants of soldiers related to french metropolis who participated in the campaign of Cilicia. To my great regret, no descendant of Algerian or Senegalese Riflemen has contacted. They were, however, many to fight for France!
Our ancestors come from Limousin, Puy de Dome department, Haute Loire, Brittany and Corsica. They are mostly the children of uneducated farmers.
They belong to the 412nd RI, in the 15th RTS (Senegalese Riflemen Regiment), 271st RAA (Artillery Regiment of Algeria), 19th RTA ( Algerian Riflemen Regiment).
Those of Class 18 (Elie, Emile D., Pierre P., Louis P.) or older (Warrant Officer Pierre T.) arrive as early as June or July 1919 in Cilicia. Those in Class 19 and Class 20 (François B., Pierre R., François T., Andre C., Adolphe B.) arrive later in reinforcements and have little time to acclimatize.
Only Elie and Warrant Officer Pierre T. have lived the Marache siege. Unfortunately, Warrant Officer Pierre T. had only indirect kinship with the net surfer who made contact, grandson of his cousin François T., and he did nothing forwarded in his history.
Many of our elders, Class 18, were taken prisoner during the siege of Bozanti or while trying to exit: Louis P., Emile D., P. Pierre, Elie. They are returned to France only in November 1921.
Those of class 20 have experienced strong tensions in Adana and the surrounding region, with the influx of Armenians deprived of everything and the harassment of Turkish rebels.
François B. (Class 19) has probably experienced the seat of Aïn-Tab (Gaziantep): he kept in his portfolio a newspaper article on the victory Aïn-Tab. He was evacuated from Aleppo for acute enteritis, fatigue and anemia on Nov. 16, 1920.
Adolphe B. (Class 19) was killed by the enemy on May 26, 1920 at Islahiye where,as a private, he was on a post with the 21st Regiment of Algerian Riflemen. It only remains for him a photo (on the right), and a name on a monument to the memory of dead soldiers.
"He spoke very little!"
It is the unanimous comment all descendants of these veterans. Maybe they talked more to their wives or their parents. We, their young people, we saw throughout their lives, how they were broken. One fell into alcohol, and it took all the love of his wife to help him recover. Others got married late or died prematurely. Another ran away when his children were quarreling ...
How to understand what they were unable to tell us? We look through the books. L'Histoire de France? The First World War? The event is hardly mentioned. The bibliography is rare and unsatisfactory. Our grand-fathers were poorly educated, did they misunderstand what they lived, where they went?
However, bit by bit, each of them brings a little more to what remains in the archives of the Historical Department of Defense or in the books.
The attached document, mentioning the order of the Regiment of the 3rd Company machine guns, shows the violence of the fighting and the firepower committed on both sides.
The 3rd section of the 3rd of the 412th CM R.I.,
On May 2, 1920 under the energetic command of Sergeant Pons very skillfully took position on a nipple violently under fire from the enemy, and by gunfire so accurate and effective dispersed insurgent groups who attempted a movement encirclement, and inflicted substantial losses.
On May 26, 1920
Lieutenant Colonel Thibault
Commanding the 412th RI
Referring to the same period, but in other places, here is what the grandson of Emile D. (Class 18, 412th RI, captured at Kelebek near Bozanti, April 6, 1920):
He refused (he was rather incapacitated because of the suffering caused by these memories on him) to talk about this period, we knew only that on more than 800 soldiers in his regiment, they were only sixty coming back, the others were dead in combat, their throats slit, died of abuse and deprivation and disease, which lasted from April 1920 to November 1921 ... Almost every day died one or more companions.
The exact numbers of dead and injured are still difficult to assess and it is not known who were the 800 soldiers mentioned by Emile D.. The figure of 800 corresponds roughly to the garrison of Bozanti, half of whose soldiers were killed on May 28, 1920. And there have been many deaths before or after ...
Others pointed to the violence of the fighting, especially those in Bozanti. However, for Elie, the great trauma was Marache!
In Marache siege, the soldiers were hungry. But it is mainly the prisoners who have experienced the lack of sufficient quality food. They have not kept grudge against the Turks because they had the same food that soldiers of regular or irregular Turkish army.
After their capture, french soldiers prisoners of the Turks were unable to give any information to their families or their officers in Adana. Their silence lasted several months. Thus, the family of Pierre P. or that of Emile D. were informed of the death of their soldier, they were then surprised to receive their letters, then to see them again.
Here is what says the grandson of Emile D. :
I knew only that he had gone to Turkey in 1919, he had fought in Cilicia, he was captured in 1920, considered as missing then considered as dead in July 1920 (the date on which the family was notified). He reappeared "miraculously" in November 1921.
For Elie, it was Florentine, my grandmother, who wrote to the Department of war. Did the military want to spare the future of a soldier? They answered to his fiancée that they could not tell her or if he was alive, or if he was dead, or if he was healthy or injured.
"I am a Christian, here is my glory
My hope and my support"
It was a very popular hymn a hundred years ago. Our soldiers, especially those from rural areas, were very devout. They had never been confronted with other religons. Two facts illustrate the need for changes which have been following the war. It's still the grandson of Emile D who wrote:
The only day when they were proposed for meat: the Good Friday of 1921, Emile had eaten ... As believer and very respectful of "rules" of the Church, he felt much guilty!
Is it the reason why Elie no longer wanted to eat mutton or lamb after his return from Cilicia?
The son of Pierre P. told me the death of Father Niorthe, chaplain of the French troops of Bozanti. His father often talked about him. It was in the ravine where the Turks attacked the fleeing garrison. Where, as Elie said, "bullets hissed, friends fell." Father Niorthe was in the middle of the soldiers. Brandishing the crucifix above him, he encouraged them:
"Go ahead my children, God protects us!"
It was then that he was shot in the head.
The non-said of our soldiers are they significant? Although it seems surprising, I found no expression of hatred of Turks in the letters that I have received, or in my contacts. There was not a trace of anti-Islamism. Indeed, the regiments of french soldiers were very blended on the battlefields, and soldiers from home country have appreciated the Senegalese or Algerian Riflemen, most of whom were Muslims.
However, it seems that Emile D. put a slight difference. His grandson says:
Elie, who said they had always been well treated, was he, maybe like my grandfather, proving modesty about the suffering he had endured.
I should add that my grandfather too appeared not to blame the Turkish people, but only the troops who had mistreated them...
Our soldiers were on war against the Turks, about whom they spoke little. They spoke even less about Armenians. In the great suffering they expressed, there was no resentment or jealousy or any kind of questioning of those for whom they were asked to give their lives. Maybe even there was a bit of pride in Elie, on the day he told an Armenian passing at home:
"I fought with the Armenians."
Did they protest against decisions of their senior officers, as did the Poilus of the Great War? It is also in the unsaid! It seems that General Gouraud, General Dufieux, or Colonel Bremond, have obtained their confidence. Pierre P. never forgot the Commander Mesnil, chief of Battalion in garrison at Bozanti, nor his wife, a very generous nurse.
Other officers, overtaken by events, have left less glorious memories !...