When the British Protocol takes over

Big remembrance ceremonies are being held 100 years after the outbreak of the First World War in Belgium on Monday, as political leaders and dignitaries come to the cities of Liège and Mons. The event in Mons at the Saint-Symphorien Military Cemetery is being organised by the British, who have taken matters into their own hands, in a joint effort with the local Belgian organisers. The British are taking over part of the city in a major effort that also involves the BBC.

First up Monday is Liège. 13 heads of state and other political leaders and dignitaries, including Belgium's King Filip and Spain's King Felipe, the French and German presidents François Hollande and Joachim Gauck, several Belgian ministers and a number of ambassadors, such as the American ambassador to Belgium, Denise Campbell, will attend the Liège ceremony. Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate will also be present.

Most of them, including William and Kate (archive picture), will make the trip to Mons later during the day to attend a ceremony at the Saint-Symphorien Cemetery there. This event is in the hands of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in close cooperation with the UK government and a local delegation from Mons. The BBC was charged with the organisation of the broadcasting bit. The whole event will be retransmitted in full in British prime time on Monday evening.

Britain rules

Speaking in the Francophone daily La Libre Belgique, Corentin Rousman, the local event coordinator, explains that "the British consider the Mons ceremony a private one, which is why they are in charge. The Belgian protocol had to give way. The governor of Hainaut province will welcome the king and queen, but afterwards the Belgian protocol is being left. It will be William, Kate and Harry who will receive the people that were invited. The diplomatic rules are very strict."

Adopting the British protocol has certain consequences: "Belgian politicians will not enjoy the traditional privileges. They cannot be brought to the site by their own private drivers, but will have to take a shuttle bus."

"The BBC is sending 60 staff"

Mr Rousman explains that "the BBC was charged with televising the event. They are sending 60 staff here and will broadcast the ceremony using 17 different cameras."

Mons is pleased with the attention. "We have often been put into second place compared to the attention the city of Ieper has received. These ceremonies will allow people to redefine the role the city of Mons has played. The British didn't make Mons their first choice in the commemoration process for no reason", explains Burgomaster Nicolas Martin in La Libre. Mons has a symbolic meaning for the British. Saint-Symphorien hosts the graves of the first British soldier (Private John Parr) and the last British victim (George Edwin Ellison) that died in the First World War.

For more information about Saint-Symphorien and its symbolic meaning in the Great War, click here.