Douamont, France: Leaders of a united Europe on Tuesday marked the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I, which tore the continent apart and cost millions of lives.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s Prince Charles attended the solemn ceremony near one of the conflict’s bloodiest battlefields. It was held in the northeastern French town of Douaumont, near the site of the Battle of Verdun.
There, an estimated 300,000 soldiers lost their lives in 300 days of ferocious fighting between French and German troops for control of River Meuse, a key strategic post on the eastern approach route from Germany to Paris. The French forces prevailed in December 1916.
Prince Charles, Australia’s governor-general Quentin Bryce, Sarkozy and Peter Mueller, president of German Bundesrat, laid wreaths at foot of massive French flag that soared over esplanade between two large fields of crosses - the burial markers.
Hundreds of people including veterans from other wars stood outside a huge stone ossuary in Douaumont, where the remains of unknown soldiers from both sides of the war are buried.
France has been reflecting on how best to keep the memory of the 1914-1918 war alive, following the death earlier this year of the last of the 8.4 million Frenchmen who fought in the conflict. Lazare Ponticelli died in March, at age 110.
Germany’s last veteran from the war also died earlier this year, leaving only a handful of living veterans from the conflict.
Britain will mark the anniversary with its three surviving World War I veterans Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110 and Bill Stone, 108. The three will take part in ceremonies in London at the Cenotaph, a war memorial near the Houses of Parliament.
The Duchess of Gloucester will attend as patron of the World War I Veterans Association, together with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the chiefs of staff and defense minister.