May uses poets’ words to pay tribute to war dead
THE Prime Minister drew on the words of First World War poets to pay tribute to fallen soldiers as she began to mark the centenary of the Armistice.
Theresa May travelled to Belgium and France yesterday to take part in a series of engagements alongside
French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Ending her visit at the Thiepval Memorial, she toured the site – which bears the names of more than 72,000 members of the Armed Forces who died in battle – accompanied by the director general of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
In her second wreath-laying ceremony, she and Mr Macron placed a garland combining poppies and cornflower le bleuet, the British and French emblems of remembrance.
On it she left a card with an extract from poem A Soldier’s Cemetery by Sergeant John William Streets which read: “There lie the flower of youth, the men who scorn’d to live (so died) when languished liberty.”
She came to the ceremony from a lunch with Mr Macron in Albert, the town in the Somme region which suffered significant bombardment during the conflict.
The president was born in nearby Amiens and his British great-grandfather, Bristol-born butcher George William Robertson, fought at the Somme, was decorated for bravery and stayed in France after the war, marrying
Suzanne Julia Amelie Leblond in Abbeville in May 1919.
Mrs May began her morning some 80 miles away in Mons with Mr Michel visiting the St Symphorien Military Cemetery.
Set up by the German Army, it is the final resting place for British and German soldiers killed at the Battle of Mons.
The pair were greeted by a guard of honour from the Royal Regiment of the Fusiliers and stood for the sound of The Last Post before a minute’s silence.
Later they met serving members of the British and Belgian armed forces.
Mrs May was sombre as she lay wreaths at the graves of Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment who died on August 21 1914 – the first UK soldier to be killed in the conflict – and the last to be killed, Private George Ellison of the Royal Irish Lancers, who died on the Western Front on November 11, 1918 at 9.30am before the Armistice came into effect at 11am.
In the note left by the resting place of Private Parr, Mrs May quoted another line of wartime poetr, The Soldier written by Rupert Brooke. She wrote: “There is in that rich earth a richer dust concealed.”