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Last Updated: Monday, 17 March 2008, 19:08 GMT
France honours last WWI veteran
Funeral ceremony of Lazare Ponticelli in Paris
War veterans attended the tribute at Les Invalides
France has given full military honours to its last World War I veteran, Lazare Ponticelli, who died on Wednesday at the age of 110.

President Nicolas Sarkozy led a ceremony in Paris to commemorate him, and eight million other Frenchmen who fought in the conflict.

Mr Sarkozy said it was a national duty to keep their memory alive.

Mr Ponticelli, originally Italian, had lied about his age in order to join the French Foreign Legion in 1914, aged 16.

Understanding and respect

Draped in the colours of the French flag, Mr Ponticelli's coffin was carried into a church at Les Invalides, the golden-domed military hospice where Napoleon is buried.

Coffin of Lazare Ponticelli draped with French flag
Lazare Ponticelli joined the French Foreign Legion when he was 16

State officials across France held a minute's silence, and flags flew at half-mast on public buildings.

The ceremony was also attended by the former French President Jacques Chirac and current Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Mr Sarkozy also laid a wreath in honour of all those who died in WWI - around one-and-a-half million people.

"Beyond the silence of death, they speak to us about what they endured. They tell us that understanding, respect and solidarity are the only shields against barbarism," he said.

Foreign legion

Lazare Ponticelli celebrating his 110th birthday on 16 Dec 2007
Lazare Ponticelli celebrated his 110th birthday in December

Mr Ponticelli was born into a poor family 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.

He later joined the army to thank the French for taking him in.

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



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Reflections on Lazare Ponticelli's life



SEE ALSO
France's final WWI veteran dies
12 Mar 08 |  Europe
Memorial marks French battlefield
13 Oct 06 |  Lincolnshire
France rediscovers WWI veterans
03 Mar 06 |  Europe

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