Commemorations in London, Verdun mark World War I anniversary

November 11th, 2008 - 8:01 pm ICT by IANS  

London/Paris, Nov 11 (DPA) Commemorations to mark Armistice Day, the day guns fell silent at the end of World War I 90 years ago, were held in Britain and France Tuesday.In London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown attended the solemn ceremony and two-minute silence which were led by the three remaining survivors of the Great War, now all well over 100 years old.

In France, ceremonies held at Verdun, the major Franco-German battlefield, were led by President Nicolas Sarkozy and attended by Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall.

British press reports said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who Tuesday took part in independence commemorations in Poland, had cancelled plans to attend the Verdun event in the last minute, furious at Sarkozy’s decision to switch the venue from Paris to

“What should have been a dignified coming together today of once bitter foes threatened to blow up into a diplomatic dispute,” the Daily Telegraph said Tuesday.

According to the paper’s report from Paris, the French government’s statement on the change of venue said at the time: “The presence of the German Chancellor will be particularly symbolic.”

An organizer of the event at Fort Douaumont, on the Verdun battlefield, told the Telegraph Merkel had made an “eleventh hour decision to stay away.”

“She’s annoyed that Sarkozy has chosen a symbol of Germany’s shameful militaristic past for this event. The kind of dignified ceremony which has taken place in Paris for decades would have been perfectly appropriate.”

On Nov 11, 1984, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the late French President, Francois Mitterrand, sealed Franco-German postwar reconciliation with a symbolic handshake above the graveyards of Verdun.

Among those attending the Verdun commemoration Tuesday was Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission.

A moving ceremony at the Cenotaph memorial in central London was led Tuesday by veterans Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110 and Bill Stone, 108, who came in wheelchairs to place their wreaths of red poppies - the flower to mark the war dead - at the memorial.

Only last week, 108-year-old Sydney Lucas, one of last British survivors of World War I, died in Australia, where he emigrated in the 1930s. Another of the known British survivors, 107-year-old Claude Choules, is still alive in Australia.

Armistice Day marks the day in 1918 when the Armistice Treaty signed by the wartime allies and Germany to end World War I came into effect.

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