The day First World War ended

The Great War, which had claimed more than 60,000 Cana­dian lives, ended on Nov. 11, 1918

Kingston Whig-Standard - - FORUM - BILL BESWETHERICK

One hun­dred years ago, early on the morn­ing of Nov. 11, 1918, my fa­ther en­tered the Bel­gian city of Mons to join the 42nd Bat­tal­ion (Black Watch of Canada) ,which had just cleared Ger­man de­fend­ers from the city. Pte. Wil­bert Beswetherick was re­join­ing his bat­tal­ion af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a se­vere wound. Only a con­stant stream of re­in­force­ments,in­clud­ing re­cov­ered wounded and the first group of con­scripts, kept units up to strength. He was ex­pect­ing to par­tic­i­pate in an­other Al­lied of­fen­sive, but on re­port­ing to his bat­tal­ion Pte. Beswetherick learned that Ger­many had just signed an armistice, which would come into ef­fect at 11 a.m. The terms amounted to Ger­many’s com­plete sur­ren­der. The Great War, which had claimed more than 60,000 Cana­dian lives, was over.

In early 1918, Ger­many ap­peared on the verge of to­tal vic­tory. Her armies were close enough to Paris to shell it with ar­tillery. Although her army went on the de­fen­sive af­ter suf­fer­ing one mil­lion ca­su­al­ties, her com­man­ders be­lieved a ne­go­ti­ated peace was pos­si­ble. That il­lu­sion was crushed at Amiens on Aug. 8, 1918, when the Cana­dian and Aus­tralian corps drove the Ger­mans back 11 kilo­me­tres and cap­tured 12,000 pris­on­ers. Amiens was fol­lowed by costly Cana­dian vic­to­ries at the Queant-Dro­court Line and the Canal du Nord. The Ger­man re­quest for an armistice, how­ever, was a shock to sol­diers on both sides. Most Al­lied mil­i­tary com­man­ders ex­pected the war would last into mid or late 1919.

It was at Mons in Au­gust 1914 that British and Ger­mans sol­diers fought their first bat­tle and was there that the last Cana­dian sol­dier was killed. Canada re­lied ex­clu­sively on vol­un­teers for most of the war, but heavy losses meant fewer men en­listed. Con­scrip­tion came into ef­fect fol­low­ing a di­vi­sive elec­tion on the is­sue in De­cem­ber 1917. Pte. Ge­orge Lawrence Price, age 25, was one of about 24,000 draftees to ar­rive at the front dur­ing the last weeks of the war. He was shot in the chest and died two min­utes be­fore the Great War ended. His grave is lo­cated near the first British and Ger­man sol­diers killed in the first days of the war.

The cost of the fi­nal 100-day drive to vic­tory was stag­ger­ing. The Cana­dian Corps be­gan Amiens with a strength of 103,000. By Mons, 11,882 had been killed and 32,750 wounded. Mac­in­tyre Hood, a British Whig (now WhigS­tan­dard) em­ployee, wrote of Nov. 11, 1918: “Bands seemed to spring up as if by magic, hun­dreds of ve­hi­cles bear­ing flags and filled with cheer­ing peo­ple … and amidst of it all an un­for­get­table in­ci­dent. The tri­umphant pa­rade sud­denly stopped as along a side street came a solemn pro­ces­sion, led by a mil­i­tary band, play­ing the ‘Death March.’ Be­hind it was a gun car­riage bear­ing a cof­fin cov­ered by a Union Jack and a sol­dier’s for­age cap. It was the fu­neral cortege of one of many who had been wounded in the war and did not see the com­ing of vic­tory ... the re­mains of that de­parted sol­dier were laid to rest on the very day when his sac­ri­fice was crowned with vic­tory.”

Many Cana­di­ans who served hoped that their sac­ri­fices would mean a bet­ter world. This sol­dier wrote on learn­ing that his brother had been killed in ac­tion: “For me I can­not con­ceive a worse tragedy, Fa­ther, than a wasted life, and one’s life here at any rate is not wasted … it is some­thing to have come here and done what is ex­pected of you ... Let us hope that the world af­ter will be the bet­ter for it.”

It is nei­ther this sol­dier’s fault nor that of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of other Cana­di­ans who served dur­ing the Great War that 20 years af­ter the armistice, many of their sons and daugh­ters saw the need to vol­un­teer in an­other world war. Maj. Bill Beswetherick is a re­tired Cana­dian Forces army com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer who served 34 years in the mil­i­tary, in­clud­ing post­ings to Ger­many and the Nether­lands and UN tours in Lebanon/Is­rael and El Sal­vador. He is cur­rently the sec­re­tary at the Gananoque branch of the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion.


Pte. Wil­bert Beswetherick, Black Watch of Canada, in a photo taken in 1916, af­ter the Bat­tle of the Somme.

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