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A century on, Europe pays tribute to soldiers of WWI

August 4, 2014 at 6:41 PM EST
Lights Go Out To Mark World War One Centenary

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Commemoration events were held throughout Europe today to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. The global conflict killed more than 14 million people from 28 countries.

We have this report narrated by James Mates of Independent Television News.

JAMES MATES: In memory of a terrible past, there is a determination in these anniversary commemorations to look to the future. It is the coming generations in the form the duke and duchess of Cambridge who are leading the British representation here this morning in the Belgian city of Liege, scene of some of the earliest clashes on the western front, as the German army moved into neutral Belgium.

The prince’s speech was fully in tune with today’s emphasis on reconciliation.

PRINCE WILLIAM, Duke Of Cambridge: The fact that the presidents of Germany and Austria are here today and that other nations then enemies are here too bears testimony to the power of reconciliation. We were enemies more than once in the last century. And today we are friends and allies. We salute those who died to give us our freedom. We will remember them.

JAMES MATES: A 10-year-old girl then released a single symbolic balloon, soon to be followed by thousands more in the colors of every nation whose people fought and suffered in what soon became known as the great war.

The prince of Wales, followed by the prime minister, laid wreaths at the Cenotaph Glasgow’s George Square, among the first of many that are being laid across the country and in cemeteries across the channel throughout this day of remembrance.

Prince Harry saluted a parade of veterans in Folkestone, the port from which an estimated 10 million sailors sailed for France on the western front. He officially opened the newly built memorial arch on what is now known as the Road of Remembrance.

For so many of those young soldiers, the march to the dockside was to be the last time they set foot on British soil. It is in Flanders where they were heading to fight that the principal British ceremony is taking place this evening. At the small cemetery of Saint Symphorien, where lie the graves of both British and German dead.

Nothing better illustrates the futility of the First World War than the fact that the British forces first saw action here in Mons in 1914. Four years, more than a million deaths later, they were still fighting in this town. John Parr, buried here, was the first British soldier to die. He was just 16 years old. He had lied about his age.

George Ellison, buried here, had fought alongside him in the first battle of Mons, survived the whole of the First World War, only to become the last British serviceman to died just an hour-and-a-half before the armistice.

Whether they fought and died in vain or whether it was a war that needed to be fought continues to be debated a century on. But it was a war that changed the world, whose memories and whose legacies are still very much with us.