May hails UK’s ‘close­ness’ with Europe ahead of Armistice events

Ger­man pres­i­dent will lay wreath at Ceno­taph on Re­mem­brance Day

The Observer - - News - Toby Helm Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

Theresa May last night praised the “strength and close­ness” of the UK’s re­la­tions with “our friends and part­ners in Europe”, as she pre­pares to join the Ger­man and French pres­i­dents in mark­ing 100 years since the end of the first world war.

As the world gets ready to com­mem­o­rate 11 Novem­ber 1918, when more than four years of fight­ing that cost an es­ti­mated 37 mil­lion lives came to an end, the prime min­is­ter said: “Next week will mark one of the most sig­nif­i­cant mo­ments in our na­tion’s his­tory. One hun­dred years af­ter the guns fell silent on the western front, each and every one of us can pause to re­flect on the im­mense sac­ri­fices that were made by so many.

“The killing fields of France and Bel­gium are scarred by the hor­rors of war, but the strength and close­ness of our re­la­tion­ship to­day is a tes­ta­ment to the jour­ney our coun­tries have trav­elled to­gether. I’m proud to rep­re­sent the im­mense grat­i­tude of our na­tion at these com­mem­o­ra­tions and share these mo­ments of re­flec­tion with our friends and part­ners in Europe.”

Next week, on Re­mem­brance Sun­day, the Ger­man pres­i­dent, FrankWal­ter Stein­meier, will per­form a his­toric ges­ture of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion when he will be­come the first leader of his coun­try to lay a wreath at the Ceno­taph in White­hall. Later in the day Stein­meier will at­tend a ser­vice in West­min­ster Abbey along­side the prime min­is­ter. The Queen and other se­nior mem­bers of the royal fam­ily will also be present.

Af­ter­wards bea­cons will be lit across the coun­try. The events will mark the cli­max of events that have been minutely planned in Euro­pean cities for many months. On Fri­day May will visit the St Sym­phorien Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery in Mons, Bel­gium, where some of the first and last shots of the war were fired. She will lay a wreath at the graves of John Parr – the first UK soldier to be killed in 1914 – and the last, Ge­orge El­li­son, who lost his life at 9.30am, 90 min­utes be­fore the Armistice be­came ef­fec­tive at 11am on 11 Novem­ber 1918.

She will then travel to France to meet Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron in Al­bert, in the Somme, which saw some of the heav­i­est ca­su­al­ties of the en­tire war. The two lead­ers will at­tend a cer­e­mony at the Thiep­val Memo­rial, the site of an an­nual com­mem­o­ra­tive event for the miss­ing of the Somme which bears the names of more than 72,000 of­fi­cers and oth­ers sol­diers who died in the bat­tle.

Com­mem­o­ra­tions will also take place to­day in Ors, north­ern France, to mark the death of the war poet Wil­fred Owen, who served in the Manch­ester Reg­i­ment and was shot dead while com­mand­ing an op­er­a­tion to a build a bridge across the Sam­bre-Oise canal, ex­actly a week be­fore the war ended. A bu­gle taken by Owen from a dead Ger­man soldier is to be played near his grave in Ors. Owen wrote about the bu­gle in 1917, ac­cord­ing to Fiona Mac­Don­ald, of the Wil­fred Owen As­so­ci­a­tion. She told BBC Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gramme: “We know from a let­ter that he wrote to his brother, Colin, in May 1917 that he had got this bu­gle. He said ‘I’ve got some loot’. And he was go­ing to give it to Colin but he said he had grown too fond of it to part with it.”

Next Sun­day bells will ring out across the coun­try through­out the day. In the early morn­ing more than 3,000 bell tow­ers will ring out with the sound of “half-muf­fled” bells, like a slow march, in mem­ory of those who lost their lives. Then, at mid­day, bell­ringers will re­move the muf­fles from the clap­pers and at about 12.30 they will ring open to evoke a spirit of grat­i­tude and thanks.

Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier will per­form a his­toric ges­ture of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

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