12 March 2008

Lazare Ponticelli – the last poilu

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the death today of Lazare Ponticelli France's last surviving World War One veteran. "Today, I express the nation's deep emotion and infinite sadness," he said.

Mr Ponticelli was born on 7 December 1897 in Emilia Romagna, northern Italy. He made his way, at the age of nine, to France to join his two brothers, and worked in Paris as a chimney sweep and paper boy. In August 1914 he lied about his age in order to join the French Foreign Legion. He was 16 at the time.

Mr Sarkozy said there would be a national day of remembrance for France's war dead in the coming days as he marked Mr Ponticelli's death. "I salute the Italian boy who came to Paris to earn his living and chose to become French, first in August 1914 when he lied about his age to sign up at 16 for the Foreign Legion to defend his adopted homeland. Then a second time in 1921, when he decided to remain here for good."

Mr Ponticelli, who lived with his daughter in a southern suburb of Paris, had initially refused a government offer of a state funeral, the AFP news agency reported. But he later decided to accept "in the name of all those who died, men and women", during WWI.

There are now just 13 WWI veterans left

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