May joins Macron to pay tribute to fallen sol­diers of Great War

● 100 years af­ter the guns fell silent along the Western Front, Prime Min­is­ter trav­els to the war ceme­ter­ies of Flan­ders

The Scotsman - - News Digest - By ANGUS HOWARTH

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 great-grand­fa­ther, Bris­tol­born 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 vis­it­ing the St Sym­phorien Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery with Mr Michel.

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 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.

Dressed in a black coat and knee-high patent boots, Mrs May was som­bre as she laid wreaths at the graves of Pri­vate John Parr of the Mid­dle­sex Reg­i­ment who died on 21 Au­gust 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 11 November 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 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 Greek is­land of Sky­ros.

At the grave of Pri­vate El­li­son, also 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.

To­mor­row’s 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War is a time to re­flect on the need for coun­tries to work to­gether to en­sure noth­ing like it ever hap­pens again. The edited ex­tracts be­low, from two ar­ti­cles pub­lished by The Scots­man on 11 and 12 November 1918, give a flavour of the feel­ings of the time.

From 11 November: “With the fall of the great fab­ric of mil­i­tarism, new op­por­tu­ni­ties and new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties come be­fore Europe and the world. The war has strength­ened and sanc­ti­fied the bonds that bind to­gether the na­tions of the Bri­tish fam­ily, and also those that unite the peo­ples who have been fight­ing side by side in the cause of free­dom and hu­man­ity. We can never for­get the price­less debt we owe to the Do­min­ions over­seas, to In­dia, and to our Al­lies. But through care­less­ness or ig­no­rance, or mal­ice, even links welded with blood and fire can be dis­solved. Un­less within the Empire, and within the United King­dom, we are pre­pared to con­tinue ‘to sink sec­tional in­ter­ests, par­ti­san claims and class and creed dif­fer­ences in pur­suit of a com­mon pur­pose’, to ‘ban­ish fac­tion’ un­til the great Bri­tish realm is thor­oughly safe, the fruits of our labours and sac­ri­fices will be in dan­ger of be­ing lost.

“It will take gen­er­a­tions and cen­turies, says Mr Lloyd Ge­orge, to de­velop the great prospects which, in this hour of de­liv­er­ance from the sin­is­ter spell of mil­i­tarism, have been opened to all the na­tions of the earth. But un­less all ranks and classes among us ap­pre­ci­ate their du­ties and their op­por­tu­ni­ties, and un­less the new sit­u­a­tion be wisely and firmly han­dled by our states­men, Bri­tain may miss her share of fu­ture great­ness.”

From 12 November: “A great shadow has passed from the world. The House of Com­mons never in­ter­preted the feel­ings of the na­tion more aptly than yes­ter­day when it put aside all busi­ness and went to St Mar­garet’s, the home church of Par­lia­ment, to give rev­er­ent thanks for the de­liv­er­ance of our time from a great peril. There was much re­joic­ing in the land yes­ter­day; there was be­neath it a deep cur­rent of solemn feel­ing. Light-heart­ed­ness in the present is re­strained by the sombe rec­ol­lec­tion of a past scarcely yet out of anx­ious thought.

“A few days ago, when a false re­port was cir­cu­lated that an ar­mistice had been signed, James M Beck, the Amer­i­can writer, gave the peo­ple of Great Bri­tain praise for their sel­f­re­straint in the mo­ment of vic­tory. ‘You,’ he said ad­dress­ing a gather­ing of Lon­don cit­i­zens, ‘who have gone through the dark­est hours your Empire has ever known, you who have come out of the depths show not a sin­gle sign of boast­ful­ness or un­due self-glo­ri­fi­ca­tion. Bri­tain was nobly great in the hour of black­est dis­as­ter; she is supremely great in the hour of vic­tory.’

“The peo­ple of this coun­try knew their backs were at the wall six months ago, but they did not doubt, it was not in their na­ture to flinch, any more than it was in the tem­per of our sol­diers to har­bour a thought of fi­nal fail­ure. And the re­bound from one pe­riod to the other so lit­tle dis­turbs our daily rou­tine that it leaves an ob­server so ca­pa­ble as Mr Beck the im­pres­sion of the im­pas­sive sto­icism of the Bri­tish char­ac­ter.

“But that sto­icism would, it is safe to say, have been ruf­fled if the terms im­posed upon Ger­many had been less se­vere than they are.

“The war is ended; the Ver­sailles Coun­cil have en­sured that bless­ing for the world. It is peace, and not merely the sus­pen­sion of the con­flict, that was cel­e­brated yes­ter­day. Ger­many is van­quished. She can­not raise the sword again.”

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