A CEREMONY to commemorate the North-East's links with the US was transformed yesterday from a celebration to a poignant memorial to the victims of the September 11 terror attack.

American Independence Day was marked by the planting of a tree at Washington Old Hall, on Wearside, the ancestral home of George Washington.

Students from Washington Village Primary School stood alongside visiting American children, from Virginia, during the event in Washington Old Hall.

The Stars and Stripes are raised every year in what is usually an upbeat celebration on Wearside.

Ian Lane, headteacher of Washington School, said: "The events of September 11 have added a special significance to this year's ceremony."

Nick Dolan, of the National Trust, which owns the property, said: "Each year, the ceremony reminds people wherever they live of the importance of democracy and human rights. This year, it is particularly important for us to remember the words of the Declaration of Independence about the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and to mark our close relationship and solidarity with people in the US."

Washington Old Hall, a 12th Century manor house, is the ancestral home of George Washington's family and is from which the family took its name.