SOMME VALLEY, France (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May laid a wreath at a cemetery in Belgium and travelled to northern France on Friday to honour 700,000 British soldiers killed in World War One, on the eve of commemorations to mark the centenary of the Armistice.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Belgian counterpart Charles Michel attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the graves of John Parr and George Ellison, the first and the last British soldiers killed in the First World War, during celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, at the Saint Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium November 9, 2018. Benoit Doppagne/Pool via REUTERS
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel accompanied May to the St Symphorien cemetery near Mons, where she laid tributes at the graves of the first and last British soldiers killed in the war. May said the commemorations were a time to “reflect on our shared history, but also look ahead to our shared future”.
More than 500 German and British Commonwealth soldiers are buried at the St Symphorien cemetery.
Among them is Private John Parr, a reconnaissance soldier who was killed on Aug. 21, 2014, when his commanding officer sent him into enemy territory on his bicycle to gather intelligence on German military moves. He was 17 years old.
Parr’s headstone stands opposite that of George Ellison, the last British soldier to lose his life in the war. He died 90 minutes before the Armistice came into effect on Nov 11, 1918.
“That their graves lie opposite each other is a fitting and poignant symbol that brings home the eternal bond between them, and every member of the armed forces who gave their lives to protect what we hold so dear,” May said.
“We remember the heroes who lost their lives in the horror of the trenches. As the sun sets on 100 years of remembrance, we will never forget their sacrifice.”
Michel tweeted: “The duty of memory is a must.”
May also held a working lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron in Albert, a town in the heart of the Somme region, as she steps up efforts to court European support for a Brexit agreement.
The two leaders will then attend a ceremony at the Thiepval Memorial. A wreath combining poppies and le bleuet, the two national emblems of remembrance, has been made for the occasion.
Thiepval’s memorial stands on high ground overlooking the Somme river, where some of the heaviest fighting of World War One took place. It commemorates more than 72,000 British and South African soldiers who died and have no known grave.
Reporting by Marine Pennetier in Albert, Richard Lough in Paris and Alastair Macdonald; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Larry King