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St Symphorien

The full text of David Cameron’s address at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery, near Mons in Belgium, this evening:

“One hundred years ago, young men across this continent packed their kit bag…

…kissed their sweethearts goodbye…

…and prepared to go to war.

I think of the millions of mothers and fathers who would have stood on their front door-step…

…waving their sons off…

…not knowing if they would ever see them again.

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.

We remember the sheer scale of World War One.

A conflict that stretched from the Western Front to the deserts of the Middle East…

…from the plains of Poland to the frozen mountains of Austria…

…touching – and ending – millions upon millions of lives.

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.

Perhaps above all – in this, the centenary of World War One – we must remember the human stories…

…conveyed in the poems, literature and pictures that still entrance us.

History is not shaped by invisible forces, but by millions of individuals…

…who plan, and work, and love, and fight, and destroy things and build them again.

History is human stories.

And so we remember them:

The teenagers who fought in the fields around here – terrified and missing home.

The men who laid down their lives for their friends.

The veterans who were never the same again.

The families who bore those silent wounds.

The place at the table that was never filled…

…the marriages that never happened…

…the babies that were never born.

This was a war with an immense human cost – and we must always, always remember that…

…no matter how busy things are.

So much of modern life is a race to what comes next, a race to the future.

But we are all in a long chain of events…

…the inheritors of the fights that were won before us…

…the stewards of the world that the next generation will inherit.

In shaping that future it is vital that we look to the past.

Here on the continent of Europe we saw not the war to end all wars…

…but the precursor to another desperate and violent conflict just two decades later.

We should never fail to cherish the peace between these nations…

…and never underestimate the patient work it has taken to build that peace.

So, 100 years on, it is right that collectively we stop; we pause; and we re-pledge this for the next 100 years:

We will never forget. We will always remember them.”

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