Europe

David Cameron and Enda Kenny visit WWI memorials

British Prime Minister David Cameron, right, and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny walk through rows of World War One graves as they visit Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke, Belgium on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.
Image caption Enda Kenny and David Cameron walk through rows of graves ay Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke, Belgium

The prime ministers of the UK and the Irish Republic have visited World War One graves and memorials in Belgium.

David Cameron and Enda Kenny paid their respects at several sites in Flanders, including a memorial to soldiers of Ireland - north and south.

The visit is being seen as another milestone in British-Irish relations.

Mr Cameron used the occasion to announce £5m in new funding for repairing British and Commonwealth war graves and memorials.

'Circle of history'

The prime ministers visited the Island of Ireland Peace Park memorial at Messines, which is dedicated to all the soldiers who died, were wounded or went missing during the conflict.

Both laid wreaths, with Mr Kenny's reading "In honour of all those who died" in Gaelic and English.

They stopped at the grave of William Redmond, a nationalist politician and Member of Parliament, before visiting the village of Wytschaete, the site of the bloody 1917 Messines Ridge offensive.

They went on to lay wreaths at the Menin Gate Memorial, which is dedicated to Commonwealth soldiers - including those from the UK - whose graves are unknown.

Mr Kenny earlier said the visit had been planned since the Queen's visit to Dublin in 2011.

"When Queen Elizabeth visited the Republic, the first visit by a reigning monarch in a hundred years, she closed a circle of history and recognised in so many deep ways the story of 50,000 soldiers from the Republic who fought with the Allies in WW1," the taoiseach said.

Image caption The prime ministers laid wreathes at the Menin Gate in Ypres

The trip is taking place as part of a decade of centenary commemorations of key events in Britain and Ireland between 2012 and 2022.

'Family connection'

Mr Cameron said next year's centenary of the start of WW1 would be an opportunity for people to reflect on the events of the conflict.

"Nearly all of us in Britain have some family connection with that conflict, and it is the many millions of small, personal stories that resonate as loudly for us as the big, world-changing battles and campaigns," he said.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said he would be looking out for the name of his great-great-uncle, Captain John Geddes, who died in the second battle of Ypres in 1915, during the visit to the Menin Gate.

The tour finished at Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world.

In 1998, the Queen and then Irish President Mary McAleese represented the UK and the Republic of Ireland respectively at a WW1 service of remembrance near the Belgian town of Ypres.

Standing side by side, their presence together was widely seen as carrying as much symbolic significance for the present day as for the past.

The Queen later joined Mrs McAleese to unveil a tower on the site of the battle of Messines Ridge in memory of the Irish dead of WW1, and to inaugurate the Island of Ireland Peace Park.

The inauguration was the first public event undertaken jointly by a British monarch and the president of Ireland.

Last month it was announced that President Michael D Higgins would become the first Irish head of state to make a state visit to the UK.

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