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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 14:54 GMT
France's final WWI veteran dies
Lazare Ponticelli celebrating his 110th birthday on 16 Dec 2007
Lazare Ponticelli celebrated his 110th birthday in December
France's last surviving veteran of World War One, Lazare Ponticelli, has died at the age of 110.

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the death on Wednesday, paying tribute to the last "poilu", as French WWI veterans were known.

"Today, I express the nation's deep emotion and infinite sadness," he said.

Mr Ponticelli, originally Italian, had lied about his age in order to join the French Foreign Legion in August 1914,

aged 16, Mr Sarkozy said.

There are a handful of surviving WWI veterans from other countries, including British pilot Henry Allingham and Austro-Hungarian artillery man Franz Kunstler.

France's oldest surviving WWI veteran, Louis de Cazenave, died in January, also aged 110.

The last of Germany's veterans from the war died also died in January.

Day of remembrance

Mr Ponticelli was born on 7 December 1897 in Emilia Romagna, northern Italy.

He made his way, at the age of nine, to France to join his two brothers, and worked in Paris as a chimney sweep and paper boy.

Mr Sarkozy said there would be a national day of remembrance for France's war dead in the coming days as he marked Mr Ponticelli's death.

"I salute the Italian boy who came to Paris to earn his living and chose to become French, first in August 1914 when he lied about his age to sign up at 16 for the Foreign Legion to defend his adopted homeland," the French president said in a statement.

"Then a second time in 1921, when he decided to remain here for good."

Mr Ponticelli, who lived with his daughter in a southern suburb of Paris, had initially refused a government offer of a state funeral, the AFP news agency reported.

But he later decided to accept "in the name of all those who died, men and women", during WWI.

"Poilu", a word meaning hairy or tough, is the affectionate name given since Napoleonic times to French foot soldiers.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Reflections on Lazare Ponticelli's life



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