(AFP) – Mar 16, 2008
PARIS (AFP) — President Nicolas Sarkozy was to lead ceremonies Monday in honour of the last French veteran of World War I, Lazare Ponticelli, who died last week aged 110.
Ponticelli, the last of more than eight million men who fought under French colours in the 1914-18 war that tore Europe apart, died last Wednesday at his home in a Paris suburb.
A funeral ceremony will be held in the morning at Les Invalides, the historic Paris military hospice that also houses the tomb of Napoleon, followed by a private burial in a suburb of the city, officials said.
Sarkozy will then attend a second ceremony at Les Invalides in which he will lay a wreath in honour of the war's 8.5 million "poilus," the affectionate nickname meaning hairy or tough given to French foot soldiers since Napoleonic times.
Ponticelli, an Italian immigrant who lied about his age to join the French Foreign Legion and fight in the trenches, died less than two months after the penultimate French survivor of the war, Louis de Cazenave.
Germany's last veteran from World War I also died in January this year.
Now there are just nine living veterans worldwide of the conflict which France, Britain, Russia and later the United States, eventually won against Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire.
Much of the fighting, which left around 10 million dead, happened in northern France and was characterised by horrific trench warfare.
Ponticelli, who took French nationality in 1939, had long insisted he did not want his death to be marked by a national event.
But he recently relented after government pressure, saying he would accept the honour "in the name of those who died."
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