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March 29, 2017

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France, Germany pay homage to first soldiers killed during First World War

BELFORT, France--Descendants of two soldiers from France and Germany who were the first fatalities of World War I gathered in eastern France on Saturday for a ceremony marking the centenary of their deaths.

French Lance Corporal Jules-Andre Peugeot and German Sub-Lieutenant Albert Mayer were both killed on the eve of the outbreak of the 1914-18 war.

The commemoration took place in the northeastern French border town of Joncherey, near Belfort, where the German officer led a reconnaissance mission into French territory on Aug. 2, 1914.

While Peugeot is remembered here every year, this was the first time that representatives from the two countries joined to remember the losses on both sides that day.

Urns containing earth from the graves of both men were placed side by side at the town's monument to the French soldier.

As Europe prepared for war, Mayer was the officer in charge of a small group of mounted soldiers who crossed over the border into France only to come face-to-face with a local surveillance unit.

Peugeot and Mayer exchanged fire — the former being killed instantly — while the latter died after coming under further French fire.

The reason for the incursion remains unclear since Germany did not declare war on France until the following day, Aug. 3, 1914.

"This is an incident that should not have happened. It is important to tell the younger generation about it," said Gilles Maire, a retired lieutenant-colonel who helped organize Saturday's commemoration.

Before the observance, actors in period costume re-enacted the events of that day before a crowd of around 200.

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