‘I was made to feel like a celebrity’
Nephew of last commonwealth solider killed in First World War visits Belgium for momentous occasion
An invitation to return to Villesur-Haine in 2018, made four years ago during a three-day visit to Belgium to mark the start of the First World War, came to pass recently when George and June Barkhouse and their granddaughter, Sylvia Desloges, returned to attend the unveiling of a new monument dedicated to George Lawrence Price, George’s uncle and namesake.
Price was killed at two minutes before the Armistice ending the war took effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.
This monument is yet another way in which Ville-sur-Haine has honoured Price’s memory.
It began 50 years earlier when a plaque with a photograph dedicated to Price’s memory was placed on the front of the house he was exiting when he was fatally shot.
When that house, and others, were demolished to allow for a canal to be widened, the plaque was affixed to a new memorial near a pedestrian bridge. The Barkhouses were invited to the village in 1991 for the dedication of the “Passerelle George Price” located near the building where Price was killed by a German sniper. Village residents also named their elementary school Ecole George Price in 1995.
In 2014, the municipal Council of Roeulx, local historians and Canadian soldiers based at the nearby Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) received the support of the Ambassador of Canada and the Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs to construct a new, much larger memorial. The Barkhouses were invited to return to Ville-sur-Haine for the unveiling of this monument.
This was just one of three days of ceremonies and events in Belgium that the Barkhouses, as part of a 41-member Government of Canada delegation, attended in honour of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Canada’s part in the liberation of Belgium was the focus of their stop at an elementary school in Hyon, where they viewed student projects about events. The children waved Canadian flags and released red and white balloons during the visit. They were quite taken, as were the Barkhouses, with the hoop dance performed by a First Nations dancer who started with one hoop, progressed to eight in all and gave the impression of a wreath.
“It was wonderful to be a Canadian in Belgium,” said Barkhouse.
He was taken aback at the shocked reaction of the curator at the Musee des Processions in Hyon when he was introduced as George Price’s nephew.
“I was made to feel like a celebrity.”
A visit to the Mons Museum was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the St. Julien Canadian Memorial and the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground Cemetery. Small wooden crosses with a poppy attached were made by the youth delegates and placed on the graves of Canadian soldiers at the Railway Dugouts Cemetery.
During their visit to the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, June Barkhouse was greatly affected by the field of paper poppies on both sides of the walkway at back of the memorial. “There were just so many,” she recalled.
Nov. 10 began with a trip to the St. Symphorien Military Cemetary in Mons, on land donated on the condition that soldiers from both sides of the conflict be buried there. It is here that Price is buried, and that George Barkhouse and Governor General Julie Payette jointly laid a wreath on his grave.
Michael Sears, a piper, and Kevin MacDonald, a drummer in the RCMP Pipe and Drum Band who had attended the Remembrance Day Observance in Port Williams, Price’s hometown, left the program and their poppies from that event on Price’s grave.
In the afternoon it was time for the event that they had travelled more than 5,000 kilometres to attend: the inauguration and remembrance ceremony at the Price Monument in Ville-sur-Haine, which was attended by Princess Astrid of Belgium, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Governor General Payette, Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O’Regan, local dignitaries and staff and students from Ecole George Price.
“It was very, very moving for me,” said George Barkhouse, who was asked to read The Act of Remembrance during the ceremony.
The new memorial is made up of a small landscaped area with four information panels and the sculpture in the middle. The approximately three-metre high sculpture is in the shape of a large drop, which, according to the sculptor, Sylvain Patte, symbolized blood, sacrifice and the tears of those who lost loved ones.
During his visit in 2014, Barkhouse saw a woman in the crowd holding up a framed photograph of Price. He learned afterwards that the photo had been missing since 1991, when the 1968 monument, which included a plaque and photo, was moved. The woman’s husband, who worked for the local government, had told her to keep it safe.
The Remembrance Day Observance, a wreath laying, took place in the Grand Place in Mons. “There were Canadian flags everywhere,” said Barkhouse, adding that “so many people turned out to say thank you, no matter where we went.”
At a reception hosted by the Mayor of Mons, the Barkhouses spoke with Princess Astrid and George Barkhouse received a very special gift: the 22nd of 1918 limited edition George Price watches. The eleven on the dial is replaced by a poppy and it is flanked by the initials G.P. and 11-11-1918. The red 5 has beside it “No. 2419,” the name of the railroad car in which the Armistice was signed at 5 p.m. the day before it was to take effect at 11 a.m. On the back of the watch is engraved Lest We Forget Mons 11.11.2018 and 0022/1918.
They also heard of a rose, bred in Belgium, that was named for George Price.
“I hope someday to obtain one for my garden,” said June Barkhouse.
“To be honoured that way by so many people that you don’t even know, it is so humbling,” added George Barkhouse.
George Barkhouse holds No. 22 of the 1,918 George Price Memorial watches. It was presented to him by the mayor of Mons. He and his wife, June Barkhouse, were invited to Ville-sur-Haine, Belgium to attend the unveiling of a monument dedicated to his uncle, George Price, who was the last Commonwealth soldier killed in the First World War. They also attended other ceremonies held in honour of the 100th anniversary of the war’s end.
This new memorial to George Price, unveiled in Ville-sur-Haine where he was killed, is made up of a small landscaped area with four information panels and the sculpture in the middle. The approximately three-metre high sculpture is in the shape of a large drop, which according to the sculptor, Sylvain Patte, symbolized blood and sacrifice and the tears of those who lost loved ones
This photo shows the new memorial to George Price but also, to the far right, the Passerelle George Price, the pedestrian bridge named in his honour. George and June Barkhouse attended the inauguration of the bridge in 1991.