It was 10:58 a.m. when Pvt. George Lawrence Price drew his final breath and earned a place in history.
Price was patrolling the streets of Ville-sur-Haine in Belgium when a German sniper shot him through the chest.
Just two minutes later, at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, the guns fell silent and the First World War was over as Armistice took effect and Price became the last British Empire soldier to fall in the First World War.
“It opened my eyes up to how intense it actually was,” said Cpl. Brent Garnhum from Truro. “It makes me happy to say that I can wake up in the morning and put on this uniform on Nov. 11. When I go and stand at the cenotaph I’ll pay a lot more respect, now that I have an actual picture in my mind.”
Garnhum joined about 30 other army reservists of the Nova Scotia Highlanders (North) at their Truro headquarters recently, listening intently as their padre, Rev. Major Dr. Tom Hamilton, told them about the day Price died.
Hamilton recounted Price’s death from the perspective of his best friend, fellow Pvt. Art Goodmurphy, with whom he patrolled the streets of Ville-sur-Haine on the war’s final day.
“No more lice. No more rats. No more blood. No more death. I can hardly believe that the war is finally over,” said Hamilton, speaking as Goodmurphy just after the fighting ended.
Most army units on both sides learned that Armistice would take effect at 11 a.m. local time, six hours after the Allies and Central Powers reached a ceasefire agreement. The message filtered down to frontline soldiers throughout the morning.
But Price’s unit didn’t receive word in time – and the war ended just minutes too late for him. He died in Goodmurphy’s arms as a young Belgian girl named Alice Grotte dashed across the street to help them. Another Belgian family also tried in vain to revive Price.
“It’s powerful, it’s overwhelming. It’s a part of our history that we need to remember – it’s a very sobering part of our history and helps us to better appreciate what courage and sacrifice are all about,” said Hamilton.
Before his death, Price led a fairly normal life for a Canadian 100 years ago. Born in the Nova Scotia town of Port Williams on Dec. 15, 1892, he moved west to work on a farm near Moose Jaw, Sask.
The First World War broke out in August 1914, but Price didn’t enlist for another three years. When he did, he started out with the 210th Infantry Battalion (Frontiersmen) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and after several transfers he ended up with the 28th Canadian Infantry Battalion by the spring of 1918.
After arriving in France, Price joined millions of other soldiers thrown into the bloodshed of the Western Front, a network of trenches running south from the English Channel to the Swiss border.
On Sept. 8, 1918, Price survived a German chlorine gas attack in northern France, which sent him to hospital and kept him out of action for nearly three weeks.
However, the First World War was finally drawing to an end after four years of fighting. By now, America had joined the Allies, fighting alongside the French, British, Canadian and other forces pushing the Germans out of northern France in the Hundred Days Offensive.
This offensive was in its very last minutes when Price fell.
In an ironic twist, he was buried just feet away from British Army Private John Parr, the first soldier to die in the First World War.
Both men were interred at the St. Symphorien Military Cemetery in Belgium, near the town of Mons.