Leaders have been paying tribute to their soldiers as the world marks the ninetieth anniversary of the end of world war one. In France, president Nicolas Sarkozy invited Britain’s prince Charles and other dignitaries for a ceremony at the site of the Battle of Verdun, one of the war’s bloodiest conflicts.
An estimated 300,000 soldiers lost their lives in 300 days of ferocious fighting between French and German troops for control of the Meuse River, a key strategic post on the eastern route from Germany to Paris.
“On this 11th of November 2008,” said Sarkozy, “now that the hate is gone, that the spirit of revenge has died down, and that none of those who fought are seeking to dominate the others, the time has come to honour all the dead without exception.”
In Belgium’s west Flanders region, thousands stood in driving rain in the town of Ypres at the annual poppy parade commemorating Armistice Day. The Battle of Ypres was the first time poison gas was used in warfare when, in April 1915, the Germans used large amounts of chlorine against the French troops.
World War One was fought out in large part on French and Belgian soil, mostly across the fields of Flanders, where poppies were common, inspiring the famous poem that led to the flower symbolising the war dead.
In the British capital London, the traditional two minutes’ silence were held on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, to mark those who fell in the war. Three of the four surviving British veterans – aged 112, 110 and 108 – attended the ceremony at the Cenotaph war memorial near the Houses of Parliament.
In Poland, President Lech Kaczynski received German Chancellor Angela Merkel at ceremony in the capital Warsaw. World War One restored soveignty to Poland after 123 years of partition and foreign occupation.