By Flora Thompson, Press Association, in Mons
The Prime Minister quoted First World War poetry while she thanked fallen troops for being “staunch to the end against odds uncounted” as she paid her respects to mark the centenary of Armistice.
Theresa May is visiting war cemeteries in Belgium and France alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Starting in Mons on Friday morning, Mrs May and Mr Michel were escorted through the St Symphorien Military Cemetery by Commonwealth War Graves Commission representative Liz Sweet.
The cemetery was set up by the German army as a final resting place for British and German soldiers killed at the Battle of Mons.
The pair were greeted by a guard of honour from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and stood for the sound of The Last Post before a minute’s silence.
Dressed in a black coat and knee-high patent boots, Mrs May was sombre as she laid wreaths at the graves of Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment, who died on August 21 1914 – the first UK soldier to be killed in the conflict – and the last to be killed, Private George Ellison of the Royal Irish Lancers, who died on the Western Front on November 11 1918, at 9.30am before the Armistice came into effect at 11am.
In the note left by the resting place of Private Parr, Mrs May quoted a line of wartime poetry – The Soldier written by Rupert Brooke.
She wrote: “There is in that rich earth a richer dust concealed.”
The sonnet was written by Brooke, an officer in the Royal Navy, while on leave at Christmas and formed part of a collection of work entitled 1914 which was published in January 1915.
Brooke never experienced front-line combat and died from blood poisoning on April 23 1915 after being bitten by a mosquito while sailing to Gallipoli. He was buried on the island of Skyros.
At the grave of Private Ellison, also in blue pen on a headed Downing Street card attached to the garland of poppies, Mrs May wrote: “They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted … We will remember them.”
This was from another poem written by Laurence Binyon and published in September 1914 which is often quoted in Remembrance Sunday services.
During the brief visit, she and Mr Michel then met British and Belgian serving members of the armed forces.
As she left she thanked organisers for what had been a moving visit.
This afternoon she will travel to France and is due to meet President Macron in Albert, the town in the heart of the Somme region which suffered significant bombardment during the conflict.
The leaders will have a private meeting and a working lunch before departing for a wreath-laying ceremony at the nearby Thiepval Memorial – the site which bears the names of more than 72,000 members of the armed forces who died in battle and holds an annual commemoration for the Missing of the Somme.
A wreath combining poppies and le bleuet, the two national emblems of remembrance for Britain and France, is being made for the occasion.
Mrs May said the visit would be a chance to reflect on the time the countries spent fighting side by side in Europe but also to look ahead to a “shared future, built on peace, prosperity and friendship”.