President Higgins to attend British war commemoration
Service at Belgian city of Mons will mark start of first World War on Western Front
The tombstone of John Parr, the first British soldier killed in World War I, on August 21st, 1914, at the Military Cemetery of Saint-Symphorien in Spiennes, Mons. Photograph: Benoit Doppagne/AFP/Getty Images
President Michael D Higgins is to attend an official British commemoration for the start of the first World War at Mons in Belgium. He will be among 500 guests for the event which takes place on August 4th at St Symphorien military cemetery outside the city.
The event will be attended by Prince William and his wife Kate, and representatives of all the countries involved in the fighting along the western front, including Ireland.
Earlier on August 4th, President Higgins will attend a Belgian commemoration in Liege marking 100 years to the day that Germans invaded Belgium.
St Symphorien cemetery includes the graves of the first and last British and Commonwealth soldiers to die in the war. Dozens of Irish-born soldiers killed at the battle of Mons on August 23rd, 1914, are buried in the cemetery, the only cemetery on the western front where Allied and German soldiers are buried together.
The grave of the first Victoria Cross winner, Lieut Maurice Dease of Coole, Co Westmeath, is located there.
The Office of Public Works will soon receive memorial stones paid for by the British government to commemorate the 24 recipients of the Victoria Cross who were born in what is now the Republic. The UK intends to erect monument stones in all the home towns of the 628 men who won the Victoria Cross during the war, including the Republic.
A spokesman for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said it was planned to mark the August 23rd anniversary of Lieut Dease’s death with a formal presentation or public display of the stones at a heritage site or centre.
The installation of the stones at their final destinations will be addressed later.
The main Irish commemoration will be the unveiling of the Cross of Sacrifice at Glasnevin cemetery on July 31st, a joint project involving the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Government.
On August 27th a large contingent of relatives from the 2nd battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers will attend a commemoration event at an orchard in Etreux, northern France. The orchard has a Celtic cross in the memory of some 100 Irish-born soldiers who died fighting against the advancing German army.
The FAI has accepted an invitation from UEFA to participate in an event marking the centenary of a Christmas truce when British and German soldiers played football in a field between the trenches in Flanders, Belgium, in December 1914.
UEFA president Michel Platini has invited the heads of various football associations involved to commemorate the event on December 17th.
Members of the public are encouraged to to bring a single-stem flower of their choice to be placed on the altar during the service, which will also be in memory of Irish soldiers who were killed or listed as missing during the war.
The service arises from a larger project to collate a database of Irish veterans of the first World War to have served in all combatant armies.
For further details, see worldwar1veterans.com.