Theresa May pays armistice tribute to killed British soldiers

Theresa May pays armistice tribute to killed British soldiers

Theresa May lays wreaths at graves of first and last British soldiers to be killed during World War One

Between the firing of the bullet that killed 16-year-old John Parr from Finchley, north London, in August 1914, and the ringing out of the shot that struck down 40-year-old George Edwin Ellison, from Leeds, on 11 November 1918, about 750,000 British soldiers were killed.

Coincidentally, a few yards of lawn stand between the two mens graves at St Symphorien military cemetery on the outskirts of Mons in western Belgium.

Fear the other side would not abide by the conditions of the armistice, a sheer hatred produced by four years of unprecedented slaughter, blind ambition of commanders who craved that last victory, the inane joy of killing, reason enough not to let humanity shine through a few minutes, hours early. Put together they trumped the lives of soldiers, many of whom were convinced they were on the brink of peace and survival.

Death in the final minutes of WWI highlighted folly of war

At the cemetery, established by Germany in 1917 as a tribute to the dead on both sides, the British prime minister issued a statement.

prev Image 2 of 2This cover photo shows The Associated Press book World War I: An AP Centennial Commemorative Edition. On the centennial of the end of World War One, The AP collected a series of stories tracing the arc of the conflict, from Sarajevo where the Austrian heir was slain through the agony of trench warfare and Americas entry, which turned the tide against Germany and its allies. (AP Photo)

Read more A century ago British forces fought side by side with our allies in Europe on the western front. Today in France and Belgium we reflect on our shared history, but also look ahead to our shared future, built on peace, prosperity and friendship, she said.

After attending a reception with Michel, and British and Belgian serving armed forces in Mons, May set off for France to meet the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Albert, a town in the heart of the Somme region that was heavily bombarded during the first world war, before visiting the Thiepval memorial.

next Image 1 of 2FILE – In this July 26, 2014, file photo, wooden crosses and Canadian flags adorn the grave of World War I Canadian soldier Pvt. George Lawrence Price, center, at the St. Symphorien Cemetery near Mons, Belgium. Price was the last Canadian soldier to die on the Western Front during the First World War. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

As the motorcade set out, a collision with a passing car saw two policemen injured. A spokesperson for the Belgian prime minister said that the incident was a regrettable accident.

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Parr, who lied about his age in order to enlist in the army, was killed by rifle fire on 21 August as he scouted ahead on his bicycle in the first tentative British advance on Mons. The Germans buried him in the cemetery.

The remains of Ellison, who was killed 90 minutes before the armistice in a final, pointless advance, when it was clear to all that they were on the cusp of peace, were brought to the cemetery from a field grave by the British in the 1920s. There was no knowledge at the time of the significance of the plot opposite.

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