All present and correct at the French WWI memorial (apart from Cameron, Merkel, et al)

French sources say Britain was initially reluctant to support the project

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There are two David Camerons on the memorial, but no A Merkel or F Hollande.

There might, had fate decreed it, have been an A Hitler or a W Churchill.

The names of the half a million soldiers who died in northern France in the 1914-18 war  – former comrades and former enemies – are engraved on a spectacular new memorial opened by President François Hollande near Arras.

The soaring concrete ring at Notre Dame de Lorette is the first memorial to list alphabetically all the victims of a conflict without distinction of rank or nation. Of the 579,606 names of soldiers killed in northern France during the First World War, more than half – 294,000 – are from Britain or the Commonwealth. President Hollande paused beside the names of three soldiers – one French, one German, one British. His British choice was Wilfred Owen, the poet, who was killed at the Sambre canal on 4 November 1918.

While there are two David Camerons listed on the “Ring of Memory”, the Prime Minister did not accept France’s invitation to make the short journey (an hour from the Channel Tunnel) to Notre Dame de Lorette.


President Hollande had originally intended the event to be a gathering of world leaders in the name of peace. Several chose to attend the D-Day 70th anniversary in June instead. Only relatively junior ministers from seven nations were present. Chancellor Merkel is said to have been unwilling to go to a First World War event so soon after the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.

Officially, Mr Cameron did not attend because Britain has decided to make the Somme centenary in July 1916 the focus of its centenary commemoration of the British and Commonwealth contribution to the defence of France in 1914-18. Unofficially, French sources say that Mr Cameron was miffed not to be invited in September to the centenary commemoration of the Franco-British victory in the battle of the Marne.

French sources say the British government was initially reluctant to support the project (and supply soldiers’ names) as northern France already has numerous British war cemeteries and memorials.

The decision was, according to French officials, finally referred to the Queen, who gave her assent.