Tributes paid to war dead to mark 100 years

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The haunting sounds of the Last Post echoed through Ypres as leading politicians and members of the royal family led tributes in Belgium to those who died in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

The Duke of Cambridge spoke of unity between Britain and Belgium, and remembered the fallen during the official commemorations in the Belgian town last night to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

Prime Minister Theresa May (left), the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge King Philippe (third right) and Queen Mathilde (second right) watch as the poppies fall from the roof of the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium for the official commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday July 30, 2017. See PA story MEMORIAL Passchendaele. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

Prime Minister Theresa May (left), the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge King Philippe (third right) and Queen Mathilde (second right) watch as the poppies fall from the roof of the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium for the official commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday July 30, 2017. See PA story MEMORIAL Passchendaele. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire.

Alongside the Duchess of Cambridge and Philippe and Mathilde, the King and Queen of the Belgians, the Prince and a crowd of more than 4,00 people watched as poppies fluttered from the rooftops at the Menin Gate.

A wreath-laying ceremony took place before a poignant rendition of the Last Post was played by buglers underneath the gate, the spot where thousands of British soldiers passed through in 1917 to reach the battlefield.

The great gate is covered with the names of 54,391 British dead and serves as a memorial monument to those who have no known grave.

“Today, the Menin Gate records almost 54,000 names of the men who did not return home; the missing with no known grave,” the Prince said.

“Members of our families; our regiments; our nations; all sacrificed everything for the lives we live today.”

Catherine, dressed in a cream Alexander McQueen dress, stood between William, who wore a blue suit with medals, and a more sombrely dressed Prime Minister Theresa May.

They watched as thousands of paper poppy petals, one for every name on the Menin Gate, fluttered to earth from the roof above the gathered crowd.

They included some 200 descendants of those who fought at Passchendaele.

Four thousand people were chosen by a ballot to attend events in Ypres yesterday and the larger event - centred on nearby Tyne Cot military cemetery - which will take place today.

Prime Minister Theresa May was one of a select few who laid a wreath and paid her respects to the fallen under the Menin Gate last night.

The royals and Mrs May later attended a brief reception at Ypres Cloth Hall, meeting relatives of those killed in the battle.

The Duchess spoke to Scottish singer-songwriter Davy Holt, who found out 10 years ago that his great uncle John Kimm is remembered on the Menin Gate.

Monday’s poignant Last Post was the 30,752nd time it has been played in Ypres since 1928.

In just over three months of conflict, there were more than half a million casualties - 325,000 Allied soldiers and 260,000 to 400,000 Germans - in the Belgian battlefields.

It was fought between July 31 and November 10 1917 in battlefields that were summed up in poet Siegfried Sassoon’s line “I died in hell, they called it Passchendaele”.

The ceremony was held before a large-scale event in the nearby Ypres market place. It featured performances from Dame Helen Mirren and journalist Ian Hislop, who introduced a sketch from his First World War play The Wipers Times. Testimonies from Allied and German soldiers were also projected onto the side of the Cloth Hall.

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