Theresa May
Remembrance

PM Pays Respects To WWI Dead In Belgium

Theresa May laid wreaths on the graves of the first and last British soldiers to be killed during the Great War.

Theresa May

Theresa May will meet serving British and French personnel during her visits (Picture: PA). 

Prime Minister Theresa May has laid wreaths on the graves of the first and last British soldiers to be killed during the Great War in Belgium.

John Parr died in 1914 and George Ellison was killed on the Western Front at 9.30am on 11 November – only an hour and a half before the Armistice came into effect.

Mrs May is visiting war cemeteries in Belgium and France alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

Starting in Mons on Friday morning, Mrs May and Mr Michel were escorted through the St Symphorien Military Cemetery by Commonwealth War Graves Commission representative Liz Sweet.

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.

The Prime Minister laid wreaths at the graves of Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment, who died on August 21 1914 - the first UK soldier to be killed in the conflict - and the last to be 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.

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."

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.

On Friday afternoon, she will travel to France and meet President Macron in Albert, the town in the heart of the Somme region which suffered significant bombardment during the conflict.

The leaders will hold a private meeting and a working lunch before departing for a wreath-laying ceremony at the nearby Thiepval Memorial.

Macron and May Nov 17 - CREDIT PA Adam Ihse TT TT News Agency
The two leaders will have a bilateral meeting while in Albert (Picture: PA).

The memorial 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, will be made for the occasion.