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World War I

British leaders pay tribute to fallen soldiers in Mons

100 years after the outbreak of World War One, Britain's Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron have commemorated soldiers buried in the southern Belgian city of Mons.

British leaders gathered in Mons on Belgium's border with France on Monday to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. The conflict embroiled all of Europe's major powers, dragged on for four years and claimed millions of lives.

In August 1914, Mons in southern Belgium was the site of a rearguard action by the first British troops - part of a desperate attempt to prevent an early German breakthrough.

Prince William, his wife Kate Middleton, brother Prince Harry and British Prime Minister David Cameron were joined by German President Joachim Gauck as they led tributes at the small military cemetery of Saint-Symphorien. During the ceremony, Prime Minister Cameron said the work it had taken to build peace between the nations involved should never be underestimated.

"In shaping the future, it is vital that we look to the past," he said.

In total, 229 Commonwealth and 284 German solders were buried side-by-side at the Mons cemetery in a gesture of reconciliation. The first British soldier to die in the war was killed in Mons in 1914. The final British fatality was also claimed there in 1918.

"It is right to remember the extraordinary sacrifice of a generation and we are all indebted to them because their most enduring legacy is our liberty," Cameron told the BBC.

Earlier in the day, French President Francois Hollande, Gauck and Prince William took part in a ceremony in the Belgian city of Liege, which was overrun by German forces in the first weeks of the war.

Turn out the lights

At London's Westminster Cathedral, rows of candles and the oil lamp at the tomb of the unknown soldier were gradually extinguished in an evening service marking the hour Britain declared war 100 years ago (2200 GMT).

Britons were also encouraged to switch off their lights to remember the then foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey's famous comment on the eve of war: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

More than 14 million people lost their lives in the World War One, including four million civilians. The conflict influenced many of the key events in the decades that followed. It created the fertile conditions that gave rise to Nazism and Communism, and paved the way for the fall of colonialism in the 20th century.

nm/dr (dpa, AFP)

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