Merkel and Macron join hands to remember First World War soldiers

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The leaders of former enemies France and Germany have joined together to remember soldiers killed in the First World War ahead of the centenary of the Armistice.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron stood together at the site north of Paris where the defeated Germans and the Allies signed the agreement that ended the 1914-18 war.

After the German chancellor briefly snuggled her head into the neck of the French president, the two went inside a replica of the train carriage where the Armistice was reached and put their names in a guestbook.

France WWI Centenial
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel sign a guest book inside a replica of the train carriage (Philippe Wojazer/AP)

“Our Europe has been at peace for 73 years. There is no precedent for it, and it is at peace because we willed it and first and foremost, because Germany and France wanted it,” he said.

The open show of affection was a welcome moment for Mr Macron.

Earlier on Saturday, the French leader had a somewhat awkward meeting with US President Donald Trump. As Air Force One landed in Paris on Friday night, Mr Trump wrote on Twitter he had been “very” insulted by comments Mr Macron made in the days before that he considered anti-American.

A century ago, the entry of US troops into World War One tipped the momentum toward its allies, including France and Britain.

Even as he embarked on two days of observances for the November 11, 1918 armistice, Mr Trump said the United States now bears far too much of the burden to defend the West.

France WWI Centennial
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel lay a wreath of flowers during the ceremony (Michel Euler/AP)

Mrs Merkel’s appearance in Compiegne marked how her nation’s bloodstained history with France has become a close alliance that is now the driving force behind the European Union.

In the four years of fighting, remembered for brutal trench warfare and the first use of gas, France, the British empire, Russia and the United States had the main armies opposing a German-led coalition that also included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.

Almost 10 million soldiers died. France lost 1.4 million and Germany 2 million.

Yet, despite a war that was supposed to end all wars, World War Two pitted both sides against each other once again in 1940.

Across the line that once marked the Western Front, leaders lauded the courage of soldiers who were killed during the unprecedented slaughter, before converging on Paris for a dinner.

The armistice entered into force on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, and on Sunday 69 world leaders will commemorate the centennial of the event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, underneath the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris.

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