Fam­ily re­mem­bers last ca­su­alty of the First World War

The Prince George Citizen - - In Remembrance - Ci­ti­zen new ser­vice

Mo­ments be­fore the ar­mistice end­ing the First World War took ef­fect on Nov. 11, 1918, a sniper’s bul­let sliced the morn­ing air. It struck a Cana­dian sol­dier in the chest as he emerged from the door­way of a house in a small Bel­gian vil­lage. Pvt. Ge­orge Lawrence Price died min­utes later at 10:58 a.m. – a mere two min­utes be­fore hos­til­i­ties ceased.

He be­came the last Bri­tish Empire sol­dier to die in a war that claimed mil­lions of lives, in­clud­ing nearly 67,000 Cana­di­ans and New­found­lan­ders.

It’s un­clear whether the 25-yearold was aware the war was so close to be­ing over when he and five other mem­bers of ‘A’ Com­pany, the 28th Bat­tal­ion of the Saskatchewan North West Reg­i­ment, de­cided on their own to search a se­ries of houses for Ger­mans in Ville-Sur-Haine, east of Mons.

“They had heard ru­mours for months that maybe the war was go­ing to come to an end, but if you are a sol­dier on the front lines you tend to take that stuff with a grain of salt,” said Ken Hynes, cu­ra­tor of the Army Mu­seum Hal­i­fax Ci­tadel. “So Ge­orge was do­ing his job as he saw it.”

Price was posthu­mously awarded the Bri­tish War Medal and the Vic­tory Medal.

He is in­terred in a ceme­tery in Bel­gium not far from the war’s first Bri­tish Empire ca­su­alty, Pvt. John Parr of the 4th Bat­tal­ion Mid­dle­sex Reg­i­ment.

Price’s story has re­mained in­grained in the lore of suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions of his sur­viv­ing fam­ily, ac­cord­ing to his niece, Bev­erly McLean, of Kentville, N.S.

“My mom was his sec­ond youngest sis­ter and from the time I was a lit­tle girl that’s all I heard was about Un­cle Ge­orge,” McLean said fol­low­ing the re­cent pre­miere in Hal­i­fax of a short doc­u­men­tary film about Price.

“My mom just wor­shipped him and she named her son Ge­orge af­ter Un­cle Ge­orge.”

Price, a na­tive of Fal­mouth, N.S., was work­ing as a labourer in Moose Jaw, Sask., when he was con­scripted on Oct. 15, 1917.

He fought in the Bat­tle of Amiens, the Bat­tle of Cam­brai and the Pur­suit to Mons, and was gassed in the Canal-du-Nord area on Sept. 8, 1918. Upon his dis­charge from hos­pi­tal, he re­turned to his unit on Sept. 26 and was on the line in Canal-du-Cen­tre when he took part in the fi­nal ac­tion that led to his death.

Ac­cord­ing to unit records, Price and his com­rades crossed the canal to check on houses that ap­peared to be the site of a Ger­man ma­chine gun post. They rushed one house and found only the owner and his fam­ily af­ter the Ger­mans ran out the back door.

A sec­ond house was checked, and as Price stepped back into the street he sud­denly slumped into the arms of Pvt. Art Good­mur­phy. He was dragged back into the house where at­tempts to save him proved fu­tile.

Ac­cord­ing to an eye­wit­ness ac­count by Good­mur­phy in an in­ter­view con­ducted af­ter the war, he said that he went back to his com­pany’s po­si­tion and told a ma­jor that Price had been killed.

“Oh Jees did he blow a fuse,” Good­mur­phy re­called. “The war is over, the war is over, he (the ma­jor) said. I said, well I can’t help that.”

Good­mur­phy also re­ported the ma­jor as say­ing “What the hell did you go across there for? We had no or­ders to go across there.”

But Good­mur­phy’s ac­count noted the re­con­nais­sance party “never even thought about the war be­ing over then,” adding that “we didn’t al­ways get or­ders to do ev­ery­thing that we did.”

Cana­dian War Mu­seum his­to­rian Tim Cook said the Cana­dian Corps had in fact re­ceived or­ders at 6 a.m. on Nov. 11 that the war would end at 11 a.m. that day.

Most bat­tal­ions got word no later than 9:30 a.m. “and they went to ground” Cook said. “Still, there were pa­trols along the front in­clud­ing Ge­orge Price’s.”

Hynes said whether Price re­ceived the specifics of those or­ders is un­known, and the same doubt about whether all sol­diers knew how close war’s end was can likely be ex­tended to the Ger­man sol­dier who shot him.

“One can spec­u­late about whether the Ger­man sol­dier knew this – who knows?” said Hynes. “That in­for­ma­tion is lost to the mists of time.”

Hynes said even in light of the hor­rific death toll suf­fered by all armies dur­ing the war, it is fit­ting for Price to be rec­og­nized as a fig­ure of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to wrap their minds around the mass num­bers of ca­su­al­ties that were taken in the Great War,” he said. “But if you can fo­cus on a sin­gle per­son then per­haps you can make a con­nec­tion with the sor­row and the tragedy.”

Price’s grand niece, Rhonda McLean, said she was fas­ci­nated by his story from a young age.

“His photo hung on my grand­mother’s liv­ing room wall, and so he was al­ways present in any of the con­ver­sa­tions go­ing on in the fam­ily in a funny way be­cause his eyes would fol­low you no mat­ter where you were sit­ting in the room,” she said.

McLean said it was only as she grew older that she be­gan to grasp the mean­ing of her great un­cle’s death in a more pro­found way.

“It’s a story of in­cred­i­bly bad tim­ing,” she said.

“And now of course, that’s what tends to hook most peo­ple when they hear this story. He nearly made it home and he didn’t, and so he’s be­come a real rep­re­sen­ta­tive in a way for all of those who didn’t come home.”

CI­TI­ZEN NEWS SER­VICE FILE PHOTO

Mar­i­lyn La­haeu holds up a photo of First World War sol­dier Pvt. Ge­orge Lawrence Price, who was killed near her home in Ville-sur-Hain, Bel­gium, on Nov. 11, 1918. Price was shot by a Ger­man sniper while con­duct­ing a pa­trol min­utes be­fore the ar­mistice end­ing the First World War came into ef­fect at 11 a.m.

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