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Isolated Britain joins France at Somme centenary

More than 1 million people were killed, wounded in the Battle of the Somme in northern France

Policy Pulse
Publish Date: Jul 2 2016 2:56PM | Updated Date: Jul 2 2016 2:56PM

Isolated Britain joins France at Somme centenary

One week after Britain's vote to leave the European Union, British Prime Minister David Cameron and members of the royal family were standing side-by-side with France's president to celebrate their historic alliance at the centenary of the deadliest battle of World War I.


More than 1 million people were killed, wounded or went missing in the Battle of the Somme in northern France, pitting British and French troops against German ones from July 1 to November 18, 1916.


Britain held a moment of silence on Friday morning to mark 100 years since the bloodiest day of British military history — about 20,000 British soldiers alone were killed on the first day of battle.


The main ceremony started with the sound of cannon shots shortly after noon Friday at the monumental Memorial of Thiepval in northern France with the participation of 600 British and French children. Each of them laid a flower crown on the 600 British and French graves of the cemetery.


Many descendants of soldiers, often wearing poppy and cornflower pins — the British and French symbols to remember those who died — were attending the event.


Guests and dignitaries, including French President Francois Hollande, Cameron and Britain's Prince Charles read texts describing the horrific scenes and the devastated landscapes of the front line in 1916.


The very solemn ceremony turned moving when French, British and Irish songs inspired by the war were sung.


The Memorial of Thiepval, built in 1932 by the British government, is dedicated to the 73,367 British and South African soldiers missing in the Somme area during World War I. Thousands of petals of poppies and cornflowers were released from the top of the monument in complete silence.


No speeches were programmed during the ceremony and Hollande and Cameron were not expected to speak publicly, yet they might hold informal discussions at lunch.


Despite the British vote to leave the EU and their opposite political views, the Socialist Hollande and the conservative Cameron wanted to seize the occasion to stress their World War I alliance and show their attachment to the ideas underpinning European unity.


"In many ways, there is a link between the current events we're discussing and what happened 100 years ago. It's the importance of keeping peace and security and stability on our continent," Cameron told members of Parliament on Wednesday. "We're going to be standing together and remembering the sacrifices all those years ago."


Others at Friday's event included Prince Charles' wife Camilla, his sons Prince William and Prince Harry and William's wife Kate, Irish President Michael D. Higgins and former German President Horst Koehler.