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Unique Act of Commemoration to mark First World War Centenary at CWGC St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, Belgium

04 August 2014


4 August 2014 - Royalty, Heads of State and families of the fallen will gather at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's (CWGC) St Symphorien Military Cemetery near Mons in Belgium today for a unique act of commemoration to mark the Centenary of the outbreak of The First World War.

100 years ago,  the First World War began. The conflict that was to cost the lives of an estimated 9 million military personnel and 7 million civilians, forever changed the world in which we live. A century, and years of detailed planning later, all eyes will once more turn to the city of Mons in Belgium for this special remembrance event that will, for the first time, mark the start of the war and set the tone for four years of commemorations.

Among those attending the event are Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales; Their Royal Highnesses the King and Queen of the Belgians; Prime Ministers David Cameron and Elio Di Rupo; and Presidents Joachim Gauck of the Federal Republic of Germany and Michael D Higgins of Ireland.

The CWGC's Director General, Mr Brian Davidson, said: "The CWGC is pleased to partner the UK Government's Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) in the delivery of an event of international significance.

"St Symphorien is a uniquely fitting place for us to gather in a spirit of common remembrance. On land donated by a Belgian, in a cemetery first built by the German Army and now cared for by the CWGC, the fallen from both sides of the conflict lie together at peace. Today we remember them all.

"I would like to thank the City of Mons and our friends in the Belgian government, whose generous support has made today possible. And I would like to express my thanks and admiration for the staff of the CWGC who have worked so hard to prepare the cemetery."

Within weeks of Britain declaring war on Germany on 4 August 1914, forces from the two nations first clashed outside the Belgian city of Mons. The British suffered some 1,600 casualties, the Germans 2,000.

After the battle, the dead of both sides were buried in numerous sites throughout the twelve boroughs of Mons, but in the spring of 1916, a German officer approached a local landowner with a proposition. The German Army was in search of a plot of land on which to build a cemetery to bring together the graves of friend and foe alike. From the outset, there was an understanding that the graves of both nations would be treated with equal respect.

Today, St Symphorien is the final resting place of 229 Commonwealth and 284 German servicemen. It contains the graves of the first and last British and Commonwealth soldiers to be killed on the Western Front. Private John Parr is believed to be the first British soldier to be killed, Privates George Ellison and Canadian George Price are the last - both were killed on 11 November 1918.

For more information, contact: Peter Francis on 01628 507163 or 07766 255884 or by email

Notes for editors:
1. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (
The CWGC maintains the graves of the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive and accessible records archive.

The CWGC operates in over 23,000 locations in 153 countries across all continents except for Antarctica.

14-18: A series of high-profile worldwide events will take place to mark the centenary of the First World War, many of which will take place at Commission sites. The Commission will ensure that these sites are maintained to the highest standard and is installing information panels at over 500 sites to enhance the visitor experience. Smartphone users will also be able to access additional information, including the personal stories of some of those buried at the site.