LONDON (Reuters) – Lights will be switched off for an hour at landmarks of Britain on Monday and Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince William paid tribute to the dead on the centenary of the start of World War I.
Termed “the war to end all wars”, it spread carnage across Europe, especially northern France and Belgium, killing 17 million soldiers and civilians in 1914-18. One million of the dead were soldiers from Britain and its then-empire.
Cameron and Prince William attended ceremonies in Scotland and Belgium. Speaking at an event in Liege, Prince William paid tribute to those who died as he noted that the current fighting in Ukraine showed instability continued to stalk Europe.
“We were enemies more than once in the last century and today we are friends and allies,” the prince said, alluding to Germany and its cohorts in the first and second world wars. “We salute those who died to give us our freedom. We will remember them,” he told Belgium’s King Philippe and other heads of state.
Presidents Francois Hollande of France and Joachim Gauck of Germany were among those at the Liege rites, while in Glasgow, Scotland, Cameron was joined by heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles at a centenary service.
“When you think that almost every family, almost every community was affected, almost a million British people were lost in this war, it is right that even 100 years on, we commemorate it, we think about it and we mark it properly,” Cameron told the BBC earlier on Monday.
On Monday evening, London will switch off the lights at landmarks such as Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral for an hour, to commemorate the time at which Britain declared war on Germany.
Candles at an official service in London’s Westminster Abbey will go out one by one until only a burning oil lamp remains at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.
At 6:00 p.m. EDT, the lamp will be extinguished, marking the exact time the British Empire joined the war. In Trafalgar Square, one single light will shine from an old police box.
Britons were also encouraged to switch off their lights at home for an hour as part of the commemorations.
At the Tower of London, an art installation called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” by Paul Cummins features hundreds of thousands of ceramic poppies flowing from the medieval monument’s wall into the dry moat.
Red poppies have become a symbol of remembrance since the trench warfare waged in the poppy fields of Belgium’s Flanders region during World War I.
(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Mark Heinrich)