In the final hours of World War I, a terrible toll
Like hundreds of others along the Western Front, Trebuchon VRIGNE-MEUSE, France was killed in combat
Augustin Trebuchon is on the morning of Nov. 11 buried beneath a white lie. after the pre-dawn agreement
His tiny plot is almost on the between the Allies and Germany front line where the guns finally but before the armistice fell silent at 11 a.m. on the took effect six hours later.
11th day of the 11th month in His death at almost literally 1918, after a four-year war the eleventh hour only highlighted that had already killed millions. the folly of a war that
A simple white cross says: had become ever more incomprehensible “Died for France on Nov. 10, to many in nations 1918.”fxtáÉÇËá
drawn into the first global conflict. Not so.
For the French, who lost up to 1.4 million troops, it was perhaps too poignant or too shameful to denote that Trebuchon had been killed on the very last morning, just as victory finally prevailed.
“It was a lie, without a question,” said historian Nicolas Chubak, even if he acknowledged it was meant “to somewhat ease the mourning of families.”
There were many reasons why men kept falling until the The Maui News, “Holiday Greeting” P.O. Box 550, Wailuku, HI 96793 email digital photos and information to: or drop off at The Maui News, 100 Mahalani Street, Wailuku • Ph. 242-6333
call of the bugler at 11 a.m.: fear that the enemy would not abide by the armistice, a sheer hatred after four years of unprecedented slaughter, the ambition of commanders craving a last victory, bad communications, the inane joy of killing.
The reasons trumped the lives of soldiers, many of whom were convinced they were on the brink of survival.
Historian Joseph Persico estimated the total dead, wounded and missing on all sides on the final day was 10,900.
U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing, who had been bent on continuing the fighting, even had to explain to Congress the high number of last-day losses.
Before Nov. 11, the war had killed 14 million people, including 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen from 28 countries. Germany came close to a quick, early victory before the war settled into hellish trench fighting. One battle, like the Somme in France, could have up to 1 million casualties. The use of poison gas came to epitomize the ruthlessness of warfare that the world had never seen.
Death on the final morning added another twist to the cruelty.
In northeastern France’s Meuse-Argonne, a 23-year-old American, Henry Gunther, was killed by German machine-gun fire one minute before the armistice.
“His time of death was 10:59 A.M. which is just so haunting,” U.S. historian Alec Bennett said. Gunther still charged a German machine gun nest, when keeping his head down for a few dozen more seconds could have saved him. It remains a mystery why he did it.
“Gunther’s act is seen as almost a symbol of the futility of the larger war,” Bennett said.
Other nations also were not spared such casualties.
With two minutes to go, Canadian Private George Lawrence Price was shot by a German sniper close to Mons in southern Belgium, some 150 miles from where Gunther died. It served no apparent purpose but another life was shattered in its prime at 25.
“It really was one man, here and there, who was driven by vengeance, by a need to kill one last time,” Belgian historian Corentin Rousman said.
And Trebuchon, 40, also was shot minutes before the cease-fire. He was running to tell his comrades where and when they would have a meal after the armistice.
The three are considered their nations’ last men to fall in active combat.
In this undated photo American World War I soldiers wave their helmets after the Nov. 11, 1918, Armistice was signed in France. In this photo taken Oct. 29, a memorial to U.S. World War I soldier Henry Gunther perched on a hill where he died in Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France. Gunther’s time of death was recorded at 10:59 a.m. and was recognized by General John Pershing as the last American to die on the battlefront. Hundreds of troops died on the final morning of World War I — even after an armistice was reached and before it came into force. Death at literally the 11th hour highlighted the futility of a conflict that had become even more incomprehensible in four years of battle.