Among the Great War’s fallen
He, world leaders join in marking armistice’s 100th year
British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron pay their respects Friday at the Thiepval cemetery in northern France that commemorates more than 72,000 British and South African troops who died in the World War I Somme offensive in 1916. They will be joined by President Donald Trump and other leaders this weekend in Paris for an international commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.
President Donald Trump is shifting his postelection focus with a weekend trip to Paris, joining an international commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
Trump arrived in France late Friday, days after Americans delivered a split referendum on his presidency in the midterm congressional election, keeping the Senate in his party’s control but ceding the House to opposition Democrats.
He planned to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron today for talks on topics expected to include European security, Syria and Iran. As he arrived, Trump tweeted that Macron “has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
For Sunday’s anniversary, Trump was to join world leaders at a ceremony in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe.
“It should be a very beautiful period of time, the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I. We have many countries — the leadership from many countries will be there, especially since they heard the United States will be there. And we look forward to that,” Trump told reporters Friday before leaving the White House. “I’ve seen what they have planned, and I think it’s going to be something very, very special.”
Trump originally wanted to celebrate Veterans Day on Sunday with a military parade in Washington, as he was inspired by the tanks and flyovers he saw during France’s Bastille Day celebration when he visited Paris in July last year. Trump ordered the Pentagon to come up with plans for his own version, but they were eventually scrapped over concerns about costs and the damage tanks weighing many tons would do to the streets in Washington.
The president and first lady Melania Trump were expected to visit several memorial sites in France that are dedicated to American service members. Not on Trump’s schedule, despite earlier discussions about the possibility, was an extended meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I don’t know that we’re seeing each other in Paris, but we may,” Trump said. “There may be a lunch for the leaders.”
The White House and the Kremlin had previously considered a formal meeting in Paris. That now seems more likely for later this month, when they attend the Group of 20 summit of international leaders in Argentina.
On Friday, some leaders began remembrance events in a wide crescent of cemeteries and trench-rutted battlefields north of Paris.
British Prime Minister Theresa May laid wreaths for the first and last British soldier killed in the fighting — the two were buried across from each other near Mons in southern Belgium. One grave holds the remains of Pvt. John Parr, killed Aug. 21, 1914. The other grave is of Pvt. George Ellison, who survived some of the war’s worst battles but was shot on Nov. 11, 1918 — the war’s last day.
Macron visited WWI sites and caught up with May, as the two present-day leaders of the Allied forces that defeated Germany walked past graves at the Thiepval memorial.
“Each cemetery and memorial across the world is a unique and poignant reminder of the cost of the First World War,” said May.
Sixty-nine heads of state and government will underscore that message at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris on Sunday, marking the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, exactly a century after the armistice.
France, Britain and its empire, Russia and the United States had the main armies opposing a German-led coalition that also included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Nearly 10 million soldiers died, often in brutal trench warfare where poison gas added a cruelty in warfare that the world had never seen.
Hundreds of thousands from all corners of the world died in Europe, many of them on the Western Front reaching from Belgium’s Flanders Fields almost up to the Swiss border.
Carrying the heritage of defeated Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel will be visiting the site in the woods north of Paris where military leaders agreed in a train carriage to the armistice at 5 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, six hours before it took effect.
On Sunday, in another show of reconciliation, Merkel will open an international peace forum in Paris with Macron and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One on Friday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland as they head to Paris, where they will participate in World War I commemorations.