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World marks 90th anniversary of WW 1

FRANCE: Europe was to mark Tuesday the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I, the last major memorial for its handful of surviving veterans as the conflict slips from memory into history.

Leaders from the powers that fought the war, now allies, were to gather on the site of the 1916 Battle of Verdun, where 300,000 men were slaughtered over 11 months of bloody trench warfare.

Smaller memorials were to be held in towns and villages across Britain, France and the other countries that took part in the disaster.

Far from being “The War to End All Wars”, the so-called Great War merely set the tone for the 20th century’s litany of brutality, although in terms of sheer mass killing on the battlefield it has rarely been equalled since.

Many conflicts followed but November 11 — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when the World War I armistice was signed — has become the moment when the world remembers the dead from all of them.

Tuesday’s ceremonies will be solemn but in some countries a little less personal, with barely a handful of combat veterans from World War I still alive.

In London, Britain’s acts of remembrance were to be led by three of the country’s last four surviving veterans of the five million people who served during World War I.

At exactly 11:00am (1100 GMT), Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110 and Bill Stone, 108, health permitting, were to lead a two-minute silence at The Cenotaph national war memorial in central London.

They were to represent the armed service they belonged to — the Royal Air Force, the Army and the Royal Navy respectively.

Erich Kastner, the last of the German troops, died on January 1 this year, aged 107. The last French veteran, Italian-born legionnaire Lazare Ponticelli, survived him by only two months, dying on March 12 aged 110.

Tuesday’s ceremonies will place a firm emphasis on reconcilation with France, Britain and Germany now firm allies within the European Union.

But, as France’s minister for veterans’ affairs Jean-Marie Bockel said last week: “Reconciliation is not forgetting. To forget would be the worst thing.”

“Now that the last veteran has gone, 90 years on we once more share a moment of awareness. This war is part of our collective memory, and he who does not know his past has no future,” he said, inaugurating a memorial. In 1917, after three years of bloody conflict in Flanders and on the Somme, the United States intervened on behalf of Britain and France, and brought with them ambulance driver Frank Buckles, now 107 and living in West Virginia.

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain’s Prince Charles, the speaker of the German parliament Peter Muller and Australia’s Governor General Quentin Bryce were due to attend the ceremony at Fort Douaumont, epicentre of the Battle of Verdun.

Afterwards, Sarkozy will visit the nearby German cemetery.

VERDUN, Tuesday, AFP

 

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