A hand-writ­ten pledge to keep their mem­ory alive for­ever

The Daily Telegraph - - First World War Armistice centenary - By Robert Men­dick CHIEF RE­PORTER and James Crisp in Thiep­val

PRI­VATE Ge­orge El­li­son al­most made it out alive. He died while on pa­trol just out­side Mons, Bel­gium, at 9.30am on Novem­ber 11 1914, 90 min­utes be­fore the end of the First World War. He was the last British sol­dier killed – 886,345 UK troops had died be­fore him.

At the start of three days to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of the end of the Great War yes­ter­day, Theresa May left a hand-writ­ten note at Pte El­li­son’s grave side, promis­ing never to for­get.

Over the week­end mil­lions will at­tend events, in­clud­ing the light­ing of 10,000 lanterns at the Tower of Lon- don; tiny fig­ures laid out at the Queen Eliz­a­beth Olympic Park to rep­re­sent the 72,396 British ser­vice­men killed at the Bat­tle of the Somme who have no known grave; and por­traits of the dead etched in the sand at 32 beaches in a project de­vised by Danny Boyle, the film and Olympics 2012 di­rec­tor.

It will be a week­end of in­tense diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity. The Prime Min­is­ter met the French and Bel­gian pres­i­dents yes­ter­day, while Em­manuel Macron sees Don­ald Trump to­day in Paris.

On Sun­day, while Mrs May and the Prince of Wales lay wreaths at the Ceno­taph, Mr Macron hosts the US pres­i­dent and Vladimir Putin, the Rus­sian leader, at a cer­e­mony at the Arc de Tri­om­phe. The var­i­ous events will be watched keenly for signs of a new world or­der.

At St Sym­phorien Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery in Mons yes­ter­day, Mrs May placed her note at Pte El­li­son’s grave, quot­ing the Lau­rence Binyon poem For the Fallen, which was pub­lished in Septem­ber 1914 and is of­ten re­cited on Re­mem­brance Sun­day.

“They were staunch to the end against odds un­counted...we will re­mem­ber them.”

Op­po­site his grave is buried John Parr, 17, of the Mid­dle­sex Reg­i­ment, who on Au­gust 21 1914, be­came the first British sol­dier to die in the con­flict. Ac­com­pa­nied by Charles Michel, the Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter, Mrs May also laid a wreath at Pte Parr’s grave. There too she left a note, this time quot­ing from Rupert Brooke’s poem The Sol­dier.

“There is in that rich earth a richer dust con­cealed,” Mrs May quoted on a card in mem­ory of Pte Parr.

By the af­ter­noon, the Prime Min­is­ter had trav­elled to France to meet Mr Macron in Al­bert, a town in the heart of the Somme re­gion that suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing bom­bard­ment.

The statue of the Vir­gin Mary that sits atop the town’s church had leant pre­car­i­ously for much of the war. British troops had be­lieved that when it fell the war would be over. The Lean­ing

‘It is im­por­tant we re­mem­ber the friend­ship and broth­er­hood be­tween our two coun­tries’

Vir­gin in fact top­pled in April 1918.

Al­bert has a spe­cial place in Mr Macron’s heart. His British great-grand­fa­ther Ge­orge Robert­son, from Bris­tol, fought there dur­ing the bat­tle of the Somme. He stayed on to marry a French­woman, with whom he had three chil­dren.

Af­ter lunch Mrs May and Mr Macron trav­elled to the Thiep­val Me­mo­rial, the tow­er­ing mon­u­ment that com­mem­o­rates the Miss­ing of the Somme, the sol­diers who have no graves.

The two lead­ers laid a wreath of pop­pies and bleuets – the French equiv­a­lent of the poppy – and then vis­ited two graves. One was that of Philip Ernest Stubbs, who was killed, aged 17,

on Nov 3, 1916; the other was of Charles Baron, of the French ar­tillery, who was killed, aged 21, on June 11, 1915. The wreath that was laid stated: “There lie the flower of youth, the men who scorn’d to live (so died) when lan­guished lib­erty” – a quo­ta­tion from A

Sol­dier’s Ceme­tery by John Wil­liam Streets, who was him­self killed in 1916.

This was a mo­ment to re­flect, said Mrs May, on the two na­tions’ ef­forts fight­ing side-by-side in two world wars, and a chance to look ahead to a “shared fu­ture, built on peace, pros­per­ity and friend­ship”.

At Thiep­val, Paul Evrard, 88, a French­man whose fa­ther and two broth­ers died in the Sec­ond World War, looked on, car­ry­ing a French flag as he has done for the past 46 years, on ev­ery Re­mem­brance week­end.

“It is im­por­tant we re­mem­ber the friend­ship and broth­er­hood be­tween our two coun­tries,” said Mr Evrard. This will be a week­end of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. At the Ceno­taph on Sun­day – and for the first time – a Ger­man leader will lay a wreath.

Frank-wal­ter Stein­meier, the Ger­man pres­i­dent, will per­form the duty on be­half of his na­tion in a his­toric act of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Af­ter the ser­vice, 10,000 peo­ple, cho­sen by bal­lot, will have the chance to pay their re­spects to those who served in the Great War by tak­ing part in the Na­tion’s Thank You pro­ces­sion past the Ceno­taph in White­hall.

Across the coun­try, the bells will ring out as they did at the end of the First World War – and a West­min­ster Abbey ser­vice will be held, along with oth­ers in Glas­gow, Cardiff and Belfast.

The Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Corn­wall, the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge and Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex will at­tend the Abbey ser­vice.

Left: Theresa May takes a silent mo­ment at St Sym­phorien Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery in Mons, Bel­gium, at the grave of Ge­orge El­li­son, the last British sol­dier to die on Armistice Day, Novem­ber 11, 1918. Far left, the Prime Min­is­ter lays a wreath at the grave of John Parr, the first British sol­dier to be killed in 1914

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