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World remembers sacrifice of WWI lost generation

Paris — German and French leaders stood side by side at the World War I remembrance ceremony in Paris for the first time on Wednesday as events were held around the globe to honour the millions of dead.

In London, Queen Elizabeth II led tributes to the war dead, including the growing military death toll in Afghanistan. But among the dwindling band of survivors, the last British veteran of the Great War stayed away from official events.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel rekindled the flame on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and vowed that their nations would never wage war on each other again.

In Paris, Sarkozy said at the ceremony with Merkel: "We are not commemorating the victory of one people over another but an ordeal that was equally terrible for each side."

The 1914-18 conflict set the tone for the 20th century’s litany of brutality and in terms of sheer mass battlefield killing has rarely been equalled.

German leaders have attended World War I memorial events in France before, most notably when Chancellor Helmut Kohl took President Francois Mitterrand’s hand in Verdun, the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the war.

But Merkel’s visit was the first time a German leader had attended the Armistice Day ceremony in Paris marking the defeat of Germany and was seen as a signal of ever-closer ties between the two neighbours.

"We cannot wipe out the past but there is a force which can help us to bear it: the power of reconciliation," Merkel said in a speech.

The two leaders observed a moment of silence — at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — to mark the moment 91 years ago when the guns stopped firing across Europe after Germany signed an Armistice Treaty.

In Britain too, people fell silent to remember those who fought and gave their lives in the war.

Queen Elizabeth II led commemorations at a service at Westminster Abbey in London which was also attended by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Brown has faced severe criticism this week over the war in Afghanistan, where a new generation of British service personnel are making the ultimate sacrifice.

In Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand province in Afghanistan, a gun salute marked the start of a two-minute silence and people stood still to pay their respects, the BBC reported.

In the United States, where November 11 is a national holiday, Veterans Day, President Barack Obama was to attend a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.

Solemn services took place across Australia to remember those killed in action in the war the country joined as part of the British Empire.

This year has seen the deaths of the last three veterans of World War I living in Britain.

Claude Choules the 108-year-old last British veteran of the Great War, who now lives in Australia, stayed away from official events in his adopted country.

His daughter Daphne Edinger said Choules, who lives in a nursing home in Perth had been scarred by his experiences and chose not to celebrate the Armistice or other veterans’ days.

Choules served on HMS Revenge during a 41-year naval career that spanned both world wars, witnessing the surrender of the German Imperial Navy in 1918 and the scuttling of the fleet in Scapa Flow. Eight million Britons fought in the conflict.

"After my father left the navy, he never went to ANZAC Day again," Edinger told Fairfax media, referring to the day Australians and New Zealanders remember their war dead. "He didn’t think we should glorify war."

The last American veteran is Frank Buckles, 108, while Canadian John Babcock, also survives.

Rory Mulholland/AFP/Expatica