World War One: Theresa May pays respects in France and Belgium


Theresa May lays a wreath at the grave of John ParrImage copyright
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Theresa May lays a wreath at the grave of John Parr, the first British soldier to be killed in the conflict.

Theresa May has laid a wreath at the graves of the first and last UK soldiers killed in World War One, as part of a trip to France and Belgium to mark the Armistice centenary.

Visiting the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, the PM thanked fallen soldiers for being “staunch to the end against odds uncounted”.

She also stood for the sound of The Last Post before a minute’s silence.

Mrs May is visiting war cemeteries with the leaders of France and Belgium.

Later she will attend a private meeting and working lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron.

During the ceremony at Mons on Friday morning, accompanied by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, the prime minister laid wreaths at the graves of John Parr, the first UK soldier to be killed in 1914, and the last, George Ellison.

He was killed on the Western Front at 09:30 GMT, before the Armistice came into effect at 11:00, 100 years ago this Sunday.

Mrs May and Mr Michel also attended a reception, where they met British and Belgian serving members of the armed forces ahead of travelling to France.

Later she will meet Mr Macron in Albert, a town in the heart of the Somme region which suffered heavy bombardment during World War One. The two leaders will then hold their meeting before attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the nearby Thiepval Memorial.

It commemorates more than 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died there and is a symbol of Anglo-French cooperation.

A wreath combining the poppy and le bleuet (or cornflower) – the two national emblems of remembrance for Britain and France – has been made for the occasion.

Mrs May said the visit would be a chance to reflect on the time the countries spent fighting side by side in Europe, but also to look ahead to a “shared future, built on peace, prosperity and friendship”.

She said the St Symphorien wreath-laying was “a fitting and poignant symbol” for “every member of the armed forces who gave their lives to protect what we hold so dear”.

“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.”

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Media captionHow do Germans remember the World Wars?

The prime minister returns to the UK on Saturday for the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

She will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and attend the national service to mark the centenary of the Armistice at Westminster Abbey.

About 70 world leaders including US President Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Germany’s Angela Merkel will take part in a ceremony on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday morning to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

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