Europe remembers 1914 at the Menin Gate. The wreath is followed by European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, and the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU leaders in Ypres for First World War Centenary tribute to the fallen

Posted on on 26 June 2014
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European Union leaders have travelled to the Belgian town of Ypres for a special ceremony to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War.

They've gathered on 26th June 2014, two days before the 100th anniversary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo, the event which triggered the war.

The heads of government paid tribute to the dead at the Menin Gate, the focal point for remembrance in Ypres.

The memorial stands on the road along which many Allied soldiers went to battle against the German Army. It bears the names of 54,000 soldiers from Britain, Australia, Canada, India and South Africa who have no known grave.

Last Post

Leaders of the EU's 28 member states stood for the Last Post, the traditional military salute to the fallen which is still sounded every evening in Ypres.

Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, lined up alongside the French President, François Hollande, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Nearby, the leaders inaugurated a circular bench, a gift from the EU symbolising cooperation, for people to sit on and reflect as they remember the dead. It bears the word 'Peace' in the 24 official languages of the European Union.

Chancellor Merkel places the German flag on the Peace Bench together with those of other EU member states (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, led the tributes to the millions who'd been killed on all sides, and on all fronts, in the First World War.

He lamented the 'mindless march to the abyss' and the 'spiral of self-destruction' that had engulfed a continent of civilised nations in 1914.

In a statement ahead of today's ceremony, Mr Van Rompuy described the tribute as testimony to Europe's ideals: "We are not perfect, but for many people outside Europe we are still a model; a model of peace, democracy, prosperity and social protection."

The twice-yearly summit of EU leaders, usually held in Brussels, opened in Ypres to mark the Centenary. 

The Flemish town was on the front line for most the First World War, marking a salient held by British, Commonwealth and Belgian forces. Some of the bloodiest battles of the conflict resulted in about a million casualties overall.

After dinner in the the medieval Cloth Hall, rebuilt after being destroyed in the First World War, European leaders are returning to Brussels for the formal business of a summit overshadowed by differences over the appointment of the next President of the European Commission.

Source: European Union

Images courtesy of the Council of the European Union

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News