The last Cana­dian sol­dier to die be­fore the end of the First World War

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - REMEMBRANCE DAY - BOB WEEKS

Nov. 11 marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the sign­ing of the armistice

On the morn­ing of Nov. 11, 1918, a Ger­man sniper in Ville-sur-Haine, Bel­gium, shot Ge­orge Lawrence Price of Fal­mouth, N.S., where Cana­dian troops were se­cur­ing bridges on the Canal du Cen­tre. He died at 10:58 a.m. Two min­utes later, the Great War came to an end.

It’s be­lieved that Mr. Price was the last Cana­dian and British Em­pire sol­dier to per­ish in the con­flict, join­ing tens of thou­sands of oth­ers who gave their lives in a war that be­gan in July, 1914, and was ex­pected to be fin­ished by Christ­mas of that same year.

A cen­tury af­ter the armistice was signed, Canada still re­mem­bers Mr. Price and all those who served and died with a solemn ser­vice on Re­mem­brance Day. It is an oc­ca­sion that has changed dates and fo­cus over the years, and, sadly, added more con­flicts and more dead to the list of those re­mem­bered. But since 1919, Cana­di­ans have gath­ered and paused to pay trib­ute to those who served and es­pe­cially those who fell.

Armistice Day, as it was first known, was started in 1919 by King Ge­orge V with events held on the grounds of Buck­ing­ham Palace. In Canada, for the first few years, it was held jointly with Thanks­giv­ing and ob­served pri­mar­ily by vet­er­ans. It was more about cel­e­brat­ing the vic­tory than re­mem­ber­ing the sac­ri­fice. But in 1931, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment moved it to Nov. 11 and gave it a new name – Re­mem­brance Day. The em­pha­sis was al­tered to re­mem­ber­ing the dead and the hu­man cost of the con­flict, some­thing nec­es­sary for a young na­tion still griev­ing its losses. “Very clearly there is a de­sire, maybe a need, to mark the war, to mark the sac­ri­fice,” said Tim Cook, the Great War his­to­rian at the Cana­dian War Mu­seum and au­thor of The Se­cret His­tory of Sol­diers: How Cana­di­ans Sur­vived the Great War. “The First World War was the hard­est thing that Canada had ever done up to that point in its his­tory, ul­ti­mately 66,000 dead. It was a shock to the coun­try.”

Cities, towns and vil­lages built ceno­taphs and memo­ri­als, many of which still stand to­day across the coun­try and many of which will be the cen­tre­piece for this year’s Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies.

The poppy, the sym­bol of the day, was first worn in 1921 af­ter be­ing adopted as the of­fi­cial sym­bol of the Great War Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion, the fore­run­ner of the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion. In the early years, many dis­abled vet­er­ans cre­ated the lapel pins as a way to raise money for the needs of in­jured sol­diers.

Over the years, at­ten­dance has ebbed and flowed at Re­mem­brance Day ser­vices. It grew in the 1930s but be­gan to fall off fol­low­ing the end of the Sec­ond World War. In the 1960s and 1970s, the First World War vet­er­ans be­gan to die off and, cou­pled with a large anti-war move­ment that swept the coun­try, gath­er­ings be­came so sparse that the Le­gion even pon­dered whether Re­mem­brance Day had run its course.

But, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Cook, since the mid-1990s, the day has en­joyed a resur­gence, and he at­tributes that to some Cana­dian vets be­ing hon­oured abroad.

“I pin it on 1994 and 1995,” he said, “when the thou­sands of vet­er­ans of the Sec­ond World War went back and were greeted as the lib­er­a­tors by the French and the Dutch. Those were in­cred­i­ble scenes of the aged sol­diers and air­men and nurses com­ing back and be­ing greeted.

“Since then, we’ve seen more peo­ple come out to Re­mem­brance Day in their com­mu­ni­ties and at the na­tional level.”

Once again, thou­sands are ex­pected for the cer­e­mony at the Na­tional War Me­mo­rial in Ot­tawa, in­clud­ing some of the dwin­dling num­ber of Sec­ond World War vet­er­ans, now in their late 80s and 90s. The op­por­tu­nity to thank them lessens ev­ery year with just 60,000 es­ti­mated to be still liv­ing.

While Re­mem­brance Day pays trib­ute to those who have served in all Canada’s mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing more re­cent ones such as in Afghanistan, some ob­servers won­der if this year’s cen­ten­nial of the end of the First World War could see that con­flict, which started Re­mem­brance Day, pass into a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory. The last sol­dier of that war died in 2010 and 100-year ob­ser­vances of the great bat­tles have been held over the past four years, with 25,000 Cana­di­ans at­tend­ing the Vimy Me­mo­rial cer­e­mony last year.

“I don’t think any­thing is go­ing to change in terms of at­ten­dance ,” said Jeremy Di­a­mond, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Vimy Foun­da­tion, a char­ity that works to pre­serve the im­por­tance of Canada’s con­tri­bu­tions in the First World War.

“I think, if any­thing, what the cen­ten­nial did is shine a light on the im­por­tance of re­mem­brance dur­ing this pe­riod and I hope and ex­pect that will main­tain it­self past Novem­ber. The poppy is still rec­og­niz­able, [the poem] In Flan­ders Fields is still rec­og­niz­able and I think peo­ple have learned more about the First World War in the last four years and will con­tinue to want to learn.”

Back in Ville-sur-Haine, Bel­gium, they cer­tainly re­mem­ber. In 1991, a new pedes­trian cross­ing was con­structed over Canal du Cen­tre and town of­fi­cials gave it a name: The Ge­orge Price Foot­bridge.

There is a de­sire, maybe a need, to mark the war, to mark the sac­ri­fice.

TIM COOK CANA­DIAN WAR MU­SEUM

AR­CHIVES OF THE CITY OF VAN­COU­VER/VIMY FOUN­DA­TION

Vet­er­ans work on pop­pies as a way to raise money for the needs of in­jured sol­diers.

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