President Hiigins attends event to mark 100th WW1 anniversary

Former enemies during the First World War have united for ceremonies surrounding the 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict.

A memorial ceremony is underway in Liège in Belgium, attended by President Michael D Higgins and the Presidents of France and Germany, and members of the British and Belgian royal families.

Almost 50,000 Irish soldiers died in the conflict between 1914 and 1918.

In a spirit of reconciliation, Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde welcomed German President Joachim Gauck under cloudy skies for the late-morning ceremony amid pomp and military honour.

Germany invaded neutral Belgium on August 4, 1914, as part of a planned attack on France. By nightfall, Britain had joined the war.

The war was not expected to last long. Instead of weeks, the continent was plunged into unknown hardship and misery for more than four years.

On Sunday, an intense hug between Mr Gauck and French President Francois Hollande during a remembrance ceremony in eastern France close to the German border sealed again the friendship between the two neighbours, which have become the cornerstones of the European Union.

Today’s ceremony in Liege was significant since the battle for the forts around the city meant the first delay for Germany’s enveloping move through Belgium, the so-called Schlieffen Plan strategy to defeat France in a matter of weeks.

Liege held much longer than expected and allowed the allied forces to gather strength and keep Germany at bay within dozens of miles of Paris.

By the end of autumn in 1914, both sides dug in, and from the early battles, the war quickly changed into trench warfare on the Western Front, with hundreds of thousands of casualties in a barren landscape where poison gas often wafted through the air.

The battlefront scars would slowly rip across Europe, ravage whole communities and millions of families. It produced a moral wasteland in Germany that would become fertile ground for the rise of Nazism.

The US joined the allies against the German and Austro-Hungarian empires in 1917 to help break the deadlock before the armistice on November 11, 1918.

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