Leaders laud fallen soldiers on eve of Armistice centennial
PARIS – With words of gratitude, simple, solemn silence or a tweet, leaders lauded the courage of millions of soldiers who were killed during World War I's four years of unprecedented slaughter before converging on Paris for ceremonies to mark the centennial of the Armistice.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to Vimy Ridge at dawn, the battlefield in northern France where Canada found its sense of self a century ago when it defeated German opposition against the odds.
Standing amid the white headstones against an ashen sky, Trudeau said that what Canada achieved over the past century was "a history built on your sacrifice. You stand for the values on which Canada was built."
In southern Belgium's Mons, Canadians were also lauding George Price, the last Commonwealth soldier to die in the war when he was shot by a German sniper two minutes before the armistice.
President Donald Trump was looking beyond the tragedy of death and destruction of the 1914-1918 war and asked in a tweet: "Is there anything better to celebrate than the end of a war, in particular that one, which was one of the bloodiest and worst of all time?"
After a bilateral meeting with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, Trump will head to the battlefield of Belleau Wood, 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of the capital. After entering the war in 1917, U.S. troops had their breakthrough battle by stopping a German push for Paris and proving its mettle to allies and foes alike.
By the time the war ended, U.S. forces were at least an equal to any of the other major armies which had been exhausted and depleted by then. In four years of fighting, remembered for brutal trench warfare and the first use of gas, almost 10 million soldiers died.
France, Britain and its empire, Russia and the United States had the main armies opposing a German-led coalition that also included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.
France lost 1.4 million soldiers and Germany 2 million. Yet, in a war which was supposed to end all wars, World War II pitted both sides against each other again. Now France and Germany are close allies and the driving force in the European Union.
To mark this alliance despite their bloodstained history, Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit the site together where the armistice was signed in a railway carriage in Compiegne, north of Paris.
It entered into force on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, and 69 world leaders will mark the centennial of the event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris on Sunday.