Armistice Day ceremonies marking the end of World War I, which killed nearly 10 million people between 1914 and 1918, were especially lonely across Europe this year with COVID-19 social-distancing measures greatly limiting the amount of participants across the continent.
In cemeteries and battlefields in Belgium and France, which usually draw thousands of onlookers to mark the event each year, just a few handfuls of representatives gathered.
At the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, just six people participated in the event staged at a monument carved with the names of some 54,000 fallen British and Commonwealth soldiers. Other cemeteries in Flanders, where many of those young men are buried, were all closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
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In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron laid a wreath at the country’s tomb of the unknown soldier and re-ignited the monument’s flame after paying tribute to George Clemenceau, who was French prime minister during the war.
In London, Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, laid a wreath of red roses and bay leaves at the tomb of the unknown warrior at Westminster Abbey. The wreath was identical to the one his great-grandfather laid at the tomb, a symbol of the 886,000 British who died in the war, 100 years ago when it was completed for commemorations in 1920.
Speaking with the Flemish broadcaster VRT, Tony Desodt the bugler who played “The Last Post” at this year’s Ypres ceremony said: “We don’t do this for the crowds, even though their appreciation is welcome. We primarily do this for the names chiseled on the walls.”