At Saint Symphorien cemetery near Mons in Belgium, wreaths were being placed today at the grave of Yorkshireman George Bellamy, of Bradford, killed in the first few days of the war.
His great-niece, Helen Jones, will be among a guest list that includes the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge, as well as Prince Harry, at the cemetery.
The 57-year-old plans to lay some flowers on the grave in a “thank you” for the sacrifices made by millions.
Mrs Jones said the first thing she knew about her great-uncle was when her brother Paul, who had carried out research into Pte Bellamy, contacted her to say he had been invited to the ceremony but could not go, and said she should go.
The NHS administrator, from Westwoodside, north Lincolnshire, is in Belgium with husband Mark, 58.
The mother-of-three said: “I think it’s going to be a real tear-jerking time because nobody in the Bellamy family, I’m sure, will have been out and seen it, because nobody knew about it.
“I really want to lay some flowers on George’s grave and just say, ‘You know what, thanks, because you changed the world for us’.
“’Without it, it wouldn’t be the same place’.
“They just gave everything. A whole generation almost of young men just disappeared, we just can’t credit it. I’ve got three sons and I can’t imagine what they must have felt like just seeing them go and never coming back.”
She expects the ceremony to be emotional and said: “I feel honoured. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime that we’ll just never forget.”
Church leaders have led the way in commemorating the centenary.
Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines said: “The First World War was not only a catastrophe in itself, but it sowed the seeds for all that followed: the rise of fascism, a Second World War, a divided Europe.”
He added: “The divisions and tribalisms that shaped the ‘sleepwalking’ into war in 1914 have not gone away, even if they have sometimes changed complexion. It is vital that we face – with humility and courage – the shame that our commemorations of the slaughter of World War One take place in a context of renewed bloodshed in all parts of the globe.
“Peace making is costly. If we really want to learn from the First World War, we must resolve to pay the necessary price that peace demands: Freeing people from the shackles of their historical grievances by letting go of ours.”
Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said: “Sadly our prayers will not just be those of distant remembrance – violent conflict is a brutal reality today. We remember all before God, we pray for justice and peace, and we give thanks for the bravery and sacrifice of many.”