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EU leaders gather in Ypres for First World War commemoration

10:05 27/06/2014

The leaders of the 28 countries of the European Union gathered in Ypres, West Flanders, on Thursday to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The delegation made their way through Ypres to the sound of drums to the Menin Gate, on which are inscribed the names of 60,000 victims of the war.

At the Gate, they listened to the Last Post, which has been played there every day since 1928, with the exception of four years during the Second World War. A minute’s silence was held, before the members of the EU delegation headed to the Menin Gate gardens to inaugurate the specially-commissioned Peace Bench.

Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, gave a short speech at the inauguration calling on those gathered to remember that the commemoration was “not about the end of the war, or any battle or victory – it is about how it could start, about the mindless march to the abyss, about the sleepwalking, about the millions who were killed on all sides.”

Each leader then placed a poppy on the Peace Bench. Several leaders took time afterwards to shake hands with members of the public, who had turned out to witness the event, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. The group reconvened on Ypres’ main square to pose for the traditional official photo. The commemoration ceremony kicked off a two-day EU summit.

In related news, Britain unveiled on Thursday in Lancaster House, London, a memorial plaque to Acting Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Carton De Wiart, a Belgian soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War.

Born in Brussels in 1880, Sir Adrian Carton De Wiart was of Belgian and Irish descent and fought for the British Army during the First World War. Carton de Wiart was awarded the Victoria Cross during the fierce fighting at La Boisselle on 2-3 July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.

Part of his Victoria Cross citation states: “For most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during severe operations of a prolonged nature…. His gallantry was inspiring to all.”

The plaque, one of 11 honouring 175 men from overseas who won Britain’s Victoria Cross, will be sent to Belgium for display at a prominent location as a symbol of the gratitude that is felt towards them by the British people.

Written by Deborah Forsyth