Theresa May pays her respects to fallen soldiers in Belgium and France

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
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The Prime Minister today visited Belgium to pay her respects to those who died in the First World War, as the centenary of the Armistice approaches

Theresa May started her day at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, laying wreaths at the graves of the first and last British soldiers to be killed during the war.

She placed a wreath at the graves of John Parr, the first in 1914, and the last, George Ellison, who was killed on the Western Front at 9.30am, before the Armistice at 11am.


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, this morning




Mrs May visits Belgium today to pay her respects to those who died in the First World War


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


Mrs May holds a wreath of poppies at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons today


Mrs May places a wreath at the grave of Private Ellison, who was killed just before Armistice in 1918


The message on a wreath next to Private Parr’s grave from Mrs May, which quotes The Soldier, a poem by Rupert Brooke in 1914, saying: ‘There is in that rich earth a richer dust concealed’

On Private Parr’s grave, she left a message on a wreath quoting The Soldier, a poem by Rupert Brooke in 1914, saying: ‘There is in that rich earth a richer dust concealed’.

Later, she and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel will attend a reception where they will meet British and Belgian serving members of the Armed Forces.

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Afterwards she will travel to France and meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Albert in the Somme region, which suffered significant bombardment in 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. 

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    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

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      The memorial bears the names of more than 72,000 Armed Forces members 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. 

      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’.

      She added: ‘At St Symphorien I will have the honour of laying a wreath on behalf of a nation at the graves of both John Parr and George Ellison, the first and last UK soldiers to die during the war. 


      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

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        ‘That their graves lie opposite each other is a fitting and poignant symbol that brings home the eternal bond between them, and every member of the Armed Forces who gave their lives to protect what we hold so dear.

        ‘We remember the heroes who lost their lives in the horror of the trenches. As the sun sets on one hundred years of remembrance, we will never forget their sacrifice.’

        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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