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Armistice Day 2018: Theresa May leads commemoration as she lays wreaths in Belgium

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 09/11/2018 Ben Morgan
a group of people that are standing in the grass © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Theresa May today leads the nation in commemorating the Armistice centenary as she laid wreaths to the first and last British soldier killed in the First World War.

The Prime Minister visited the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium, a memorial containing the graves of more than 500 soldiers, most of whom died during the Battle of Mons in August 1914.

Joined by her counterpart Charles Michel, Mrs May lay a wreath at the graves of John Parr, believed to be the first UK soldier to be killed during the war, and the last, George Ellison, who died in battle 90 minutes before the Armistice came into effect.

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Their graves lie opposite one other in what Mrs May described as a “poignant symbol that brings home the eternal bond between them and every member of the Armed Forces who gave their lives”.

She said: “We remember the heroes who lost their lives in the horror of the trenches. As the sun sets on one hundred years of remembrance, we will never forget their sacrifice.”

Mrs May later attended a reception where she and Mr Michel met British and Belgian serving members of the Armed Forces.

a group of people standing in the grass: MayWreath0911-0.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited MayWreath0911-0.jpg

She is later due to travel to Albert, France, to meet President Emmanuel Macron. The town, in the heart of the Somme region, suffered significant bombardment during the conflict.

The pair are expected to lay a wreath at the Theipval Memorial, also in the Somme area of France, which bears the names of more than 72,000 members of the Armed Forces who died in battle.

Mrs May said the visit will be a chance to reflect on the time the countries spent fighting side by side in Europe, but also to look ahead to a “shared future, built on peace, prosperity and friendship”. A wreath combining poppies and le bleuet, the two national emblems of remembrance for Britain and France, was made for the occasion.

A handwritten message on the wreath laid by Prime Minister Theresa May at the grave of George Ellison, the last British soldier to be killed before Armistice in 1918, at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium © Getty A handwritten message on the wreath laid by Prime Minister Theresa May at the grave of George Ellison, the last British soldier to be killed before Armistice in 1918, at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium

The Prime Minister’s visit comes ahead of several days of commemorative events to mark Remembrance Sunday, which this year coincides with 100 years since the signing of the Armistice.

The centrepiece of the day will be the national service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph, when Prince Charles will lay a wreath on the Queen’s behalf. The Duchess of Cornwall, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the Duke of York will also be in attendance. For the first time, a German leader will lay a wreath, with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier representing his nation in a historic act of reconciliation.

Big Ben will also chime at 11am to signify 100 years since the moment the war ended.

Afterwards, the A Nation’s Thank You procession, involving 10,000 members of the public, will make its way along Whitehall. Hundreds of people are expected to line the streets, while large screens have been set up near the Ministry of Defence and Scotland Yard.

Prime Minister Theresa May © Getty Prime Minister Theresa May

At 12.30pm, bells will simultaneously ring out from churches and cathedrals as part of the International Bellringing campaign led by the British and German governments. In London, the Bow Bells will ring from St Mary le Bow, while veteran crewman Ron Yardley will ring the bell on HMS Belfast.

In the evening, the Queen is expected to be joined by other members of the royal family, including Harry and Meghan, for a service at Westminster Abbey.

Cadogan Hall in Belgravia will host the The Royal Choral Society and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, while Hyde Park Chapel will host Voices of the Great War, organised by the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

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The North London Military Wives Choir will perform at the RAF Museum in Hendon while the Imperial War Museum will hold its own Ceremony of Remembrance.

The exhibition Shrouds of the Somme by artist Rob Heard will also feature a short service at the Olympic Park at 11am.

The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall takes place tomorrow night, which the Queen and Mrs May are due to attend.

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Serving members of the forces have been granted free rail travel this weekend to attend services, while the same offer has been made to Royal British Legion volunteers.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This year’s remembrance is full of significance with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, so I am really pleased that the men and women of our Armed Forces will be helped with their travel as they mark this event.”

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