Prime min­is­ter in Bel­gium and France as she marks cen­te­nary of Armistice

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - FRONT PAGE - BY FLORA THOMP­SON

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 and in­terns from the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion.

In her sec­ond wreath-lay­ing cer­e­mony of the day, she and Mr Macron placed a gar­land com­bin­ing pop­pies and corn­flower le bleuet, the two na­tional em­blems of re­mem­brance for Bri­tain and France.

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 work­ing lunch with Mr Macron in Al­bert, the town in the heart of the Somme re­gion which suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant bom­bard­ment dur­ing the con­flict.

The pres­i­dent was born in nearby Amiens and his British great­grand­fa­ther, Bris­tol-born butcher Ge­orge Wil­liam Robert­son, who 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.

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 po­etry – The Sol­dier writ­ten by Rupert Brooke. She wrote: “There is in that rich earth a richer dust con­cealed.”

The son­net was writ­ten by Brooke, an of­fi­cer in the Royal Navy, while on leave at Christ­mas and formed part of a col­lec­tion of work en­ti­tled 1914 which was pub­lished in Jan­uary 1915.

Brooke never ex­pe­ri­enced front-line com­bat and died from blood poi­son­ing on April 23 1915 af­ter be­ing bit­ten by a mos­quito while sail­ing to Gal­lipoli. He was buried on the is­land of Sky­ros.

At the grave of Pri­vate El­li­son, also in blue pen on a headed Down­ing Street card at­tached to the gar­land of pop­pies, Mrs May wrote: “They were staunch to the end against odds un­counted ... We will re­mem­ber them.”

This was from an­other poem writ­ten by Lau­rence Binyon and pub­lished in Septem­ber 1914 which is of­ten quoted in Re­mem­brance Sun­day ser­vices.

To­day she will at­tend the Royal British Le­gion Fes­ti­val of Re­mem­brance at the Royal Al­bert Hall. To­mor­row, she will lay a wreath at the Ceno­taph and at­tend the na­tional ser­vice to mark the cen­te­nary of the Armistice at West­min­ster Abbey.

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