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Wednesday, November 11, 1998 Published at 19:13 GMT

World: Europe

Last veterans remember their comrades

Wreaths were laid in memory of the millions who died

Kevin Connolly: The largest and most elaborate commemoration in years
Some of the last remaining veterans of World War I have returned to the fields of Flanders to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the end of the 'war to end all wars'.

Heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II, France's President Jacques Chirac and King Albert of the Belgians, took part in several ceremonies to remember about two million British and Commonwealth, French and Belgian troops who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918.

World War 1:Special Section
While UK citizens paid their respects by marking a two-minute silence, the Queen and President Chirac led the main service of remembrance in Paris.

The service at the Arc de Triomphe marked the moment - at 11.00am (local time) on the 11th day of the 11th month - when the guns fell silent after four years and three months of almost incessant bombardment.

The Last Post was played, followed by the British and French national anthems.

[ image: The bugle sounds in memory of the fallen]
The bugle sounds in memory of the fallen
After lunch at the Elysees Palace - seat of the French President - the Queen unveiled a special monument to Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's Prime Minister during World War II.

She then bid farewell to Mr Chirac and travelled to the Belgian town of Ypres, which was virtually wiped out during the war.

Reverend Ray Oliver reads the prayer at the Ypres service
The British head of state was joined by the Irish President, Mary McAleese, and King Albert for a historic service at Messines Ridge, near Ypres, to commemorate the 50,000 Irishmen who died fighting for the British Empire.

Time to reflect

The final leg of the Queen's trip was to the Menin Gate in the centre of Ypres, where she attended a service of remembrance.

Five British and eight Canadian veterans - several of them in wheelchairs - watched as their national anthems were played.

Then Arthur Halestrap, a 100-year-old veteran of the trenches, read out the poem: "They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old... "

[ image: Six-year-old Maghella Tardy wears her great-grandfather's uniform at a cemetery in Verdun]
Six-year-old Maghella Tardy wears her great-grandfather's uniform at a cemetery in Verdun
The Last Post was played by a lone bugler - as it is every night in Ypres - and the crowd fell silent for one minute to remember those who died.

The most poignant moment of the day came as the veterans - many of whom will not be able to return to Ypres again - looked up as 55,000 poppy petals - one for each of the fallen soldiers whose graves are unmarked - fluttered to the ground.

Dressed in black

The Queen, wearing a black hat and coat decorated with poppies, and the Belgian king laid wreaths before bowing their heads in tribute.

Guy Gruet, chairman of the Last Post committee in Ypres: "You cannot escape history"
A card on the Queen's wreath read simply: "In memory of the glorious dead."

Afterwards, the two monarchs met veterans, many of whom seemed to be overcome with emotion.

[ image:  ]
Robert Burns, who turns 103 on Thursday, said: "I told the Queen that I am just very pleased to be here this afternoon, but I am thinking of the hundreds of thousands who cannot be here."

Site of the armistice

Earlier Mr Chirac visited the clearing in the forest of Compiegne, east of Paris, where allied and German military chiefs signed the armistice ending the war.

BBC Defence Correspondent Mark Laity analyses the historical legacy of World War I
The four years of World War I slaughter left more than 8.5 million soldiers dead. Among them were about 1.4 million Frenchmen.

To honour allied veterans, France is giving its top award, the Legion of Honour, to the surviving soldiers.

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