In the fi­nal hours of World War I, a ter­ri­ble toll

Imperial Valley Press - - SCOREBOARD - BY RAF CASERT

VRIGNE-MEUSE, France — Au­gustin Tre­bu­chon is buried be­neath a white lie.

His tiny plot is al­most on the front line where the guns fi­nally fell silent at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, af­ter a four-year war that had al­ready killed mil­lions.

A sim­ple white cross says: “Died for France on Nov. 10, 1918.”

Not so.

Like hun­dreds of oth­ers along the Western Front, Tre­bu­chon was killed in com­bat on the morn­ing of Nov. 11 — af­ter the predawn agree­ment be­tween the Al­lies and Ger­many but be­fore the armistice took ef­fect six hours later.

His death at al­most lit­er­ally the eleventh hour only high­lighted the folly of a war that had be­come ever more in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to many in na­tions drawn into the first global con­flict.

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.

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.

“In­deed, on the tombs it said ‘Nov. 10, 1918,’ to some­what ease the mourn­ing of fam­i­lies,” said French mil­i­tary his­to­rian Ni­co­las Czubak.

There were many rea­sons why men kept fall­ing un­til the 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.

As the hours ticked down, vil­lages were taken, at­tacks were thwarted with heavy losses and rivers were crossed un­der enemy fire. Ques­tions re­main whether the gains were worth all the hu­man losses.

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.

Other na­tions also were not spared such ca­su­al­ties.

With two min­utes to go, 25-year-old Cana­dian Pvt. Ge­orge Lawrence Price was slain by a Ger­man sniper.

About 250 kilo­me­ters (150 miles) away in France, a 23-year-old Amer­i­can, Henry Gun­ther, was killed by Ger­man ma­chine-gun fire one minute be­fore the armistice.

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.

In this file photo taken on April 3, 2017, the bones of sol­diers are piled in a crypt at the Douau­mont Os­suary in Ver­dun, France. AP PHOTO/VIR­GINIA MAYO

In this un­dated file photo Amer­i­can World War I sol­diers wave their hel­mets af­ter the Nov. 11, 1918, Armistice was signed in France. AP PHOTO

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