Prince Charles paid tribute yesterday to the British and Allied soldiers who fought at Passchendaele on the centenary of the day the battle began.
More than 320,000 Allied forces had been killed, wounded or gone missing by the end of the three-month offensive, one of the First World War’s bloodiest battles.
German casualties at the battle at the village of Passchendaele, near Ypres in Belgium, are estimated at between 260,000 and 400,000.
Charles spoke at a poignant ceremony held in the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world, where 4,000 descendants of soldiers gathered to pay their respects.
Leading the tributes: Prince Charles spoke of the courage of the men who fought and died
He turned to the words of his great-grandfather George V, who visited the same cemetery, Tyne Cot north of Ypres in 1922, to try to comprehend what happened.
During his visit George V stood before a German pillbox where the cemetery’s Cross of Sacrifice was later built. Charles, speaking in front of that monument and wearing a beige suit, said: ‘Once taken by the Allies, the pillbox became a forward aid post to treat the wounded.
‘Those who could not be saved were buried by their brothers in arms in makeshift graves; these became the headstones that are before us today.
‘After the end of the war almost 12,000 graves of British and Commonwealth soldiers were brought here from surrounding battlefields. Today a further 34,000 men who could not be identified or whose bodies were never found have their names inscribed on the memorial.
Paying her respects: The Duchess of Cambridge lays flowers at the grave of a German soldier
Duty: Prince William greets Theresa May at Tyne Cot yesterday
‘Thinking of these men, my great-grandfather remarked: “I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war”.’
By the end of the battle – officially the Third Battle of Ypres – in November 1917, the Allies had advanced just five miles.
Outlining the tortuous course of the battle, Charles said: ‘One hundred years ago today the Third Battle of Ypres began. At ten to four in the morning, less than five miles from here, thousands of men drawn from across Britain, France and the Commonwealth attacked German lines.
Solemn: The Duchess of Cambridge yesterday
‘The battle we know today as Passchendaele would last for over 100 days. We remember it not only for the rain that fell, the mud