WWI veterans mark Armistice Day

Other News Materials 11 November 2008 10:08 (UTC +04:00)

Three of the four surviving British veterans of World War I are to help mark the 90th anniversary of the end of the conflict, BBC reported.

Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110, and Bill Stone, 108, will represent the RAF, Army and Royal Navy respectively at a ceremony at London's Cenotaph.

They will lead the country in observing two minutes' silence from 1100 GMT.

Among other Armistice Day events across Europe, Prince Charles will lay a wreath at a battle site in France.

The three veterans will do the same at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, as part of the service which is the centrepiece of the 90th anniversary commemorations in Britain.

The two-minute silence at 1100 GMT marks the moment - at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - when the Armistice Treaty was signed by the Allies and Germany to end four years of conflict.

Mr Allingham - the world's oldest World War I veteran and the UK's oldest man - is looking forward to the event which he holds particularly dear.

The veteran, who is partially deaf and nearly blind, said he would like to forget the horrors of a war he fought nine decades ago - but cannot.

"Well, it was a time, that I recall, I saw too many things I would like to forget but I will never forget them, I never can forget them," he said.

Mr Allingham released an autobiography last September in the hope that, as the last of the World War I veterans disappear, their story will live on.

Dennis Goodwin, chairman of the World War One Veterans' Association, said the three veterans' presence at the ceremony was "tremendous".

He added: "These men suffered the horrors of a war and they had to then face a life of uncertainty - the Great Depression and the aftermath of the war.

"They had little or no help for any of the traumas they suffered and no help from the government, and they created our generation."

Accompanying the veterans throughout will be current representatives of the armed forces, Marine Mkhuseli Jones, Military Cross, Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, Victoria Cross, and Flight Lieutenant Michelle Goodman, Distinguished Flying Cross.

The service will be led by the Bishop to the Armed Forces, the Right Reverend David Conner.

The three veterans will meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a Downing Street reception afterwards.

The fourth surviving British veteran, Claude Choules, 107, lives in Australia and is due to attend events there.

Last week, veteran Sydney Lucas died at the age of 108. He had been one of the last conscripts called up in 1918, although peace was declared before he was sent to the trenches.

A ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum, in Alrewas, Staffordshire, will also include a two-minute silence at 1100 GMT, and a Royal Air Force flypast.

The memorial was designed so that at 1100 GMT on 11 November, a shaft of sunlight passes through it to illuminate a wreath on the central plinth.

The Royal Family will be represented there by Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall will be the guests of honour of French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the event in Verdun.

The French and German armies clashed there in 1916, and the site has since become a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation.

A liberal Christian research group has criticised the Church of England's involvement in Armistice Day events, saying it amounts to a "political statement" at odds with its teaching and beliefs.

Ekklesia claims that, when the Church says it is commemorating "those who have given their lives for the peace and freedom we enjoy today", it is ignoring the political and theological implications of its actions.

But the Rev Dr Giles Fraser, the Rector of Putney in south-west London, responded that the Church was right to honour people's sacrifice.