Theresa May lays wreathes of poppies on the graves of the first and last British soldiers to be killed in WWI as she attends a poignant service at a Belgian military cemetery to mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day
- Prime Minister is visiting Belgium and France today to pay her respects to First World War dead
- Started her day with a ceremony at St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons with Belgian PM
- Placed wreaths on graves of John Parr and George Ellison, first and last soldiers killed in WWI
- She will later attend reception and meet serving Armed Forces members, and then see Macron
The Prime Minister today thanked fallen troops who fought in the First World War for being ‘staunch to the end against odds uncounted’ at a poignant ceremony as she paid her respects to mark 100 years since the Armistice.
With autumn leaves falling on St Symphorien Military Cemetery just outside Mons, Theresa May joined Belgian leader Charles Michel to view the white graves of hundreds of men among the 14 million who died in the conflict.
Mrs May was sombre as she laid a wreath this morning on the immaculate grass in front of the grave of Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment, who died on August 21, 1914 – the first UK soldier killed in the conflict.
She laid a second wreath at the grave of the last UK soldier killed, Private George Ellison of the Royal Irish Lancers, who died on the Western Front on November 11, 1918, at 9.30am before the Armistice came into effect at 11am.
Mrs May, who is among 60 political leaders marking the anniversary of the Armistice around the world, learned about the site as she walked through it solemly with Liz Sweet from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
A sombre Prime Minister Theresa May lays a wreath at the grave of John Parr, the first British soldier to be killed in 1914, at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium, while the country’s Prime Minister Charles Michel watches on today
Mrs May visits Belgium to pay her respects to those who died in the First World War as autumn leaves fall at the cemetery
The wreaths were placed at the graves of Private Parr (left) the first soldier to be killed, and George Ellison (right), the last
Mrs May goes to lay a wreath at the grave of George Ellison, the last UK soldier killed in WWI, on the immaculate grass today
Mrs May holds a wreath of poppies at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery during the poignant ceremony in Mons today
Mrs May places a wreath at the grave of Private Ellison, who was killed just before Armistice in 1918, as soldiers stand by
The message on a wreath next to Private Parr’s grave from Mrs May, which quotes The Soldier, a famous poem written by Rupert Brooke while he was on leave in Christmas 1914, saying: ‘There is in that rich earth a richer dust concealed’
The cemetery was set up by the German army as a final resting place for British and German soldiers killed at the Battle of Mons.
The pair were greeted by a guard of honour from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and stood for the sound of The Last Post before a minute’s silence.
At the grave of Private Ellison, in blue pen on a headed Downing Street card attached to the garland of poppies, Mrs May wrote: ‘They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted … We will remember them.’
In the note left by the resting place of Private Parr, Mrs May quoted a line of wartime poetry – The Soldier written by Rupert Brooke. She wrote: ‘There is in that rich earth a richer dust concealed.’
John Parr (left) and George Ellison (right) were the first and last UK soldiers to die in the war
Mrs May (centre) walks at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (right) and Liz Sweet from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (left)
Mrs May, Mr Michel and Ms Sweet walk through the cemetery in Mons this morning
Mrs May lays a wreath at the grave of Private Parr, the first British soldier to be killed in 1914
Mr Michel stands and watches (left) as Mrs May lays the wreath for Private Parr this morning
Soldiers stand behind the grave of Private Parr as Mrs May lays a wreath next to it in Mons today
The sonnet was written by Brooke, an officer in the Royal Navy, while on leave at Christmas and formed part of a collection of work entitled 1914 which was published in January 1915.
Brooke never experienced front-line combat and died from blood poisoning on April 23 1915 after being bitten by a mosquito while sailing to Gallipoli. He was buried on the island of Skyros.
During the brief visit, she and Mr Michel then met British and Belgian serving members of the armed forces. As she left she thanked organisers for what had been a moving visit.
This afternoon she will travel to France and is due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Albert, the town in the heart of the Somme region which suffered significant bombardment during the conflict.
Mrs May and Mr Michel stand in remembrance the St Symphorien Military Cemetery today
Mrs May is shown around St Symphorien Military Cemetery with Mr Michel and Ms Sweet
The wreaths placed on the grave of Private Ellison, by Mrs May and Mr Michael this morning
Mrs May and Mr Michel walk down steps at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery today
Mrs May arrives at the cemetery in Mons, with Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel (left)
She arrives to lay wreaths at the graves of the first and last UK soldiers to be killed in the war
The leaders will have a private meeting and a working lunch before departing for a wreath-laying ceremony at the nearby Thiepval Memorial.
This is the site which bears the names of more than 72,000 members of the armed forces who died in battle and holds an annual commemoration for the Missing of the Somme.
A wreath combining poppies and le bleuet, the two national emblems of remembrance for Britain and France, is being made for the occasion.
Mrs May said the visit would 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’.
Members of the Armed Forces take part in the official opening of the Field of Remembrance at Royal Wootton Bassett today
Poppies in the Field of Remembrance at Royal Wootton Bassett in a walled garden in the grounds of Lydiard House and Park
Workers stand for a poppy drop during a Remembrance Service at the Lloyd’s building in the City of London this morning
Poppies fall to the floor during the Remembrance Service held at the Lloyd’s building in the City of London today
Workers take pictures on their phones as they stand for a poppy drop during the service at the Lloyd’s building today
Members of the Armed Forces salute as workers stand for a two-minute silence during the service at the Lloyd’s building
Returning to the UK tomorrow, Mrs May will attend the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.
On Remembrance Sunday she will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph and attend the national service to mark the Centenary of the Armistice at Westminster Abbey.
Rebellious scout John Parr, 17, was shot dead before first major battle and ex-miner George Ellison, 40, was killed by a German sniper just 90 minutes before peace
JOHN PARR was working as a caddy at the local golf course when he lied about his age to enlist at 15.
Born in July 1897, he grew up in poverty, sharing a small terraced house in North Finchley, North London, with a big family.
He was the youngest of 11 siblings, at least five of whom died before their fourth birthday.
His father, Edward, worked as a milkman until the age of 66, and his mother Alice also laboured long hours, taking in laundry for better-off families and offering her services as a midwife.
As soon as he could Parr found a job as a butcher’s boy and later as a caddy at the North Middlesex Golf Club.
Just 5ft 3in tall, he joined the Middlesex Regiment in 1912, claiming to be 18.
The young reconnaissance cyclist was described by his superiors as ‘clean, sober and intelligent’ but ‘inclined to be insubordinate’.
After his death in August 1914 there was no official news of what happened to him.
His mother visited the War Office in London in October after receiving a letter from another soldier.
Months later Parr was listed as ‘missing’ and his death was no confirmed until after the war.
Private John Parr (left) and Private George Ellison (right)
GEORGE ELLISON was a family man whose luck ran out minutes before the end of the Great War.
He somehow survived four years of horrific trench warfare only to be shot dead minutes before hostilities ceased. Ellison left a wife Hannah and a four-year-old son James, who had his fifth birthday just a few days after his father’s death.
The former miner fought during the war with the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. He must have been one of the few members of the original British Expeditionary Force, shipped to Europe in August 1914, to survive until the final day of the war.
Born in York in 1878, he had two siblings and lived in Hull and Hartlepool with his family. Ellison married in 1912 and the couple celebrated the birth of their son in November 1913 – months before the outbreak of war.
How Theresa May quoted a famous WWI poem in her wreath tribute
Prime Minister Theresa May quoted a piece of First World War poetry as she left a message on a wreath for John Parr, the first UK soldier killed in 1914.
In it, she quoted The Soldier, by soldier Rupert Brooke, which dates back to the same year, saying: ‘There is in that rich earth a richer dust concealed’.
The sonnett was written while Brooke while on leave at Christmas – and was in a collection of five entitled ‘1914’, published in a magazine one month later.
He never faced front-line combat, but died in April 1915 after suffering blood poisoning from a mosquito bite en route to Gallipolo. He was buried in Skyros.
The message on a wreath at Private Parr’s grave, which quotes The Soldier, a poem by Rupert Brooke in 1914, saying: ‘There is in that rich earth a richer dust concealed’
The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust conceal’d;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air.
Wash’d by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
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