European and Australian dignitaries paid quiet homage Tuesday to the millions of World War I soldiers who lost their lives on the battlefields of Europe nearly a century ago.
The surviving veterans of the war have dwindled to a frail few. France, Germany and Turkey this year lost their lone survivors, and this year's commemoration seemed to take on a greater significance with the recognition of their passing.
Only the whistling of a bone-chilling wind cut through the silence as President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain's Prince Charles and others bowed their heads at a national cemetery in northern France near the site of the Battle of Verdun – one of the bloodiest battlefields of the war.
For a ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the end of the war, thousands of people, including many veterans, stood outside the towering stone ossuary in Douaumont, where the remains of unknown soldiers from both sides of the 1914-18 war are buried.
Gerard Aprile, a 59-year-old former French military parachutist, said the death this year of 110-year-old Lazare Ponticelli, the last of the 8.4 million Frenchmen who fought in the conflict, had changed the tone of the event this year.
“The ceremony will always be there, but without a human witness, there is an emptiness,” said Aprile.