The last man

 

George Price is the last man.

It is Price’s sad place in history to be the last British soldier killed in World War One.

Private George Lawrence Price (#256265) has a further distinction of being the 60,661stCanadian killed in WWI.

The Armistice was signed in a railcar in the Forest de Compiegne at 5 am on the morning of November 11, 1918. Under the terms of the Armistice fighting would cease six hours later at 11 am. The time delay was needed to relay the message to the various military headquarters then down through the divisions, brigades, battalions to the front-line ranks as well as those smaller units and individuals hidden behind enemy lines and in rural and remote fronts.

Private Price was with a small advance unit trying to secure the village of Havre in Belgium. To accomplish their mission, they crossed the Canal du Centre into Ville-sur-Haine, where they knew a German machinegun unit was located. After taking cover in a local home, Price and one of his comrades stepped outside and into the sights of a German sniper 400 yards away. There is some variation about the exact minute, but between 10:50 and 10:54 am, Price was shot. Price was carried back inside by his fellow Canadian.

A young Belgian nurse, Alice Grotte, witnessed the shooting and risked her life to run to his aid. As Price lay dying he pulled a small crocheted flower that his fiancé in Saskatchewan had given him from his tunic and handed it to Grotte. Private Price died at 10:58 am, November 11, 1918, two minutes before war’s end. He was 25.

DSCN0232

The dark, heart-shaped flower stained with George Price’s blood was preserved by a Belgian nurse who held him as he died. This is the last blood a British soldier shed in World War One. (Allan Lynch Photo)

 

Seventy-three years later, Price’s nephew, George Barkhouse of Kingsport, Nova Scotia, was in Ville-sur-Haine for the commemoration of the George Price footbridge over the Canal du Centre. Alice Grotte’s daughter returned the preserved flower, brown with Price’s blood, to Barkhouse.

The flower had been placed in a small frame, with a maple leaf and this inscription:

“On the 11 Nov 1918

On the final instant

Where [when] the peace is signed

You fell for us

The last victim of the sad conflict.

 

Thank you George Price!

A drop of your blood tarnishes this simple

Flower that you concealed on your breast.”

While news of the armistice moved swiftly around the world, Barkhouse says the runner carrying news of war’s end hadn’t reached Price’s unit when the shooting happened. So, as Price lay dying in a foreign land his mother and sisters were in the village of Church Street, now Port Williams, celebrating. They sang patriotic songs, danced, and like their friends and neighbours were happy and relieved that the killing had stopped. Unfortunately, they then returned home to the devastating news of George’s death. Barkhouse doesn’t know how the news was delivered to the family. Telephones were scarce and the Annapolis Valley was too far from Halifax for the military to send a team to deliver the message in person.

 

Barkhouse, who was named for his uncle and born 11 years after his uncle’s death, says his family didn’t speak much of George. Price’s death was too painful for his grandmother, mother and family. George had been the favoured son and brother. He was one of two boys and seven girls born to James E. and Annie R. Price. He was born in Falmouth, Nova Scotia, (outside of Windsor) and raised in Port Williams (between Wolfville and Kentville). As an adult he worked at a logging camp in Falmouth and later as a farmer labourer in Stoney Beach, Saskatchewan.

For those who believe in fate coming in threes, the sniper was Price’s third and final

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June and George Barkhouse in Kingsport stand by the Minas Basin with the blood-stained flower his uncle gave to a Belgian nurse. (Allan Lynch Photo)

 

brush with death. Barkhouse says that when Price worked in logging, he was late returning to the camp one evening. He called for a man he saw standing down the lane to wait up. Just as Price reached him, the ‘man’ dropped to his four paws and went off into the woods. That night the bear wasn’t interested in Price. Price’s second temp with fate was September 8th, 1918 when he was gassed in an attack at the Canal-du-Nord.

George Price is buried in the St. Symphoriem Military Cemetery. Originally, he was buried near John Parr, 4thBattalion Middlesex Regiment, who was the first British soldier killed in WWI. Parr’s remains were later moved to a British war cemetery. In addition to the George Price bridge, there is a school named for him and on the 50thanniversary of his death and the Armistice, his comrades erected a monument near the spot where he was shot. It reads:

“In Memory of 256265 Private George Lawrence Price 28thNorth West Battalion 6thCanadian Infrantry Brigade 2ndCanadian Division killed in action near this spot at 10.58 hours November 11th1918 The last Canadian soldier to die on the Western Front in the First World War erected by his comrades November 11th1968.”

While many Canadians don’t know of Price’s story, June Barkhouse, George’s wife of 65 years, says that on one of their visits to St. Symphoriem, they met a woman placing flowers on war graves. That woman told Barkhouse, “all these years later, we don’t forget.”

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