‘Staunch to the end’ – May pays re­spects to the fallen

Po­etry on a poignant au­tumn day as lead­ers of three coun­tries meet to hon­our First World War dead

Yorkshire Post - - ARMISTICE 100 - DAVID BEHRENS Email: david.behrens@ypn.co.uk Twit­ter: @york­shire­post

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years con­demn. At the go­ing down of the sun and in the morn­ing, We will re­mem­ber them.” There is in that rich earth a richer dust con­cealed Lines from The Sol­dier by Rupert Brook laid at the grave of Pri­vate John Parr

IN A wooded glade on the out­skirts of Mons, where the First World War had be­gun and where it ended, the au­tumn air was thick with sor­row as the lead­ers of three na­tions gath­ered to hon­our the coun­try­men their fore­bears had sent to their death.

They were, said Theresa May, quot­ing Lau­rence Binyon, “staunch to the end against odds un­counted”.

The next stanza of Binyon’s poem, For The Fallen, writ­ten when the First World War was not yet a year old, will be read a thou­sand times up and down the land to­mor­row, as the cen­te­nary of the armistice is ob­served.

Yes­ter­day, it was Binyon’s words that Mrs May car­ried with her, writ­ten in blue pen on a Down­ing Street headed card and at­tached to a gar­land of pop­pies.

She set the tone for the week­end as she ar­rived first at the St Sym­phorien Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery in Bel­gium, with the coun­try’s Prime Min­is­ter, Charles Michel.

It had been es­tab­lished by the Ger­man army as a fi­nal rest­ing place for British and Ger­man sol­diers killed at the Bat­tle of Mons, the first ma­jor ac­tion of the British Ex­pe­di­tionary Force, in the sum­mer of 1914 and one of the last towns to be lib­er­ated.

She and Mr Michel 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.

Mrs May laid wreaths at the fac­ing graves of the first and last British sol­diers to die in the con­flict.

Pri­vate John Parr of the Mid­dle­sex Reg­i­ment, who died on Au­gust 21, 1914, was just 17 years and one month old.

Pri­vate Ge­orge El­li­son of the Royal Ir­ish Lancers, was 40 when he met his end as he pa­trolled the out­skirts of Mons, an hour and a half be­fore the armistice took ef­fect. Back home in Leeds, his wife, Han­nah, and their son, James, five days short of his fifth birth­day, did not learn what had hap­pened un­til just be­fore Christ­mas, more than a month later.

At his grave, Mrs May placed the hand­writ­ten card and the gar­land of pop­pies.

She quoted an­other line of wartime po­etry, The Sol­dier by Rupert Brooke, at Pri­vate Parr’s grave. “There is in that rich earth a richer dust con­cealed,” he had writ­ten, while on leave at Christ­mas. It formed part of a col­lec­tion of work called 1914, pub­lished the fol­low­ing Jan­uary.

Some 80 miles from St Sym­phorien, Mrs May and the French Pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron, toured the site of the Thiep­val Me­mo­rial, east of Amiens, which bears the names of more than 72,000 ser­vice­men who died in bat­tle.

The two lead­ers placed a gar­land com­bin­ing pop­pies and corn­flower le bleuet, the na­tional em­blems of re­mem­brance for Bri­tain and France.

On it Mrs May left a card with an ex­tract from A Sol­dier’s

Ceme­tery by an­other war poet, Sgt John Wil­liam Streets, who had gone out with the Sh­effield

City “Pals” Bat­tal­ion. It read: “There lie the flower of youth, the men who scorn’d to live (so died) when lan­guished lib­erty.”

Sgt Streets, known among his 11 sib­lings as Will, was miss­ing in ac­tion for 10 months be­fore his body was re­cov­ered from no-man’s land. His po­etry was pub­lished posthu­mously.

PIC­TURES: PA WIRE

TRAGIC DUTY: Theresa May at the St Sym­phorien Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery in Mons, Bel­gium, with Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter Charles Michel and Liz Sweet, of the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion; lay­ing a wreath at the grave of John Parr, the first British sol­dier to be killed in 1914; French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron wel­comes Mrs May be­fore their meet­ing in Al­bert, north­ern France.

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