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Cherish peace is PM's message as Fallen of Mons are remembered

By Ellen Branagh

People should "never fail to cherish" peace, David Cameron has said as he joined a moving twilight ceremony to mark 100 years since Britain joined World War One.

The Prime Minister joined the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at the atmospheric occasion at St Symphorien Military Cemetery near Mons, Belgium, as part of events across the UK and Belgium to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War.

They were joined by some 500 guests including relatives of those laid to rest at St Symphorien, where 229 Commonwealth and 284 German troops are buried, including the first and last British soldiers to die on the Western Front, and the recipient of the first VC of the war.

Within weeks of Britain declaring war on Germany, the two nations' forces clashed outside Mons, leading to some 1,600 British casualties and 2,000 German.

The land at St Symphorien was gifted to the German army by a Belgian landowner, with the proviso that both sides were treated with equal respect.

The three royals and Mr Cameron all signed a guestbook as they entered the woodland cemetery, pausing at the commemoration stone.

In an address, Mr Cameron said: "Every war is cruel. But this war was unlike any other.The unspeakable carnage, the unbearable loss, the almost unbelievable bravery.

"One hundred years on, it is right that we meet here – and around the world – to remember."

He said: "Its legacy still affects us today – good and bad.

"We remember the reasons behind this conflict. Too often it has been dismissed as a pointless war, fought by people who didn't know why they were fighting.

"But that is wrong.These men signed up to prevent the domination of a continent, to preserve the principles of freedom and sovereignty that we cherish today."

As he visited the Dud Corner Cemetery and Loos Memorial in northern France, where his great-great-uncle Captain Francis Mount is remembered with an inscription, Mr Cameron said earlier that it brought home the scale of the tragedy. "You see panel after panel, almost half the people he served with didn't come home. It does help to make a personal connection with this massive sacrifice that took place and I think it is a good way to try and understand what happened and the reasons why."

Before the ceremony, William, Kate, Harry and Mr Cameron attended a reception for guests and met relatives of those buried at the cemetery.

Before the service Kate laid a bouquet at the commemoration stone in memory of those who lost their lives.

The service was attended by some 500 guests including relatives of those buried in the cemetery, the King and Queen of Belgium, German President Joachim Gauck, Irish President Michael D Higgins and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The manicured woodland cemetery, which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, was lit in the dusk by some spotlights as the daylight faded.

Narrated by historian Dan Snow, the service included readings, music and poetry and aimed to acknowledge the British, Irish, Commonwealth and German war dead.

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