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
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
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