A Canadian Icon of War Heroism, or Futility?

At 10:58 on Nov. 11, 1918, Private George Lawrence Price sealed his strange, famous fate.

By Daniel Wood 9 Nov 2018 |

Daniel Wood is a widely published Vancouver journalist and author.

Someone had to be last. Fate selected Private George Lawrence Price, who had grown up in Nova Scotia, enlisted at age 20 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and served on the Western Front with Regina’s 28th (Northwest) Battalion. For over six months in 1918, he’d been part of the Allied push across France and southern Belgium. When the final Allied breakthrough came at Amiens in northern France and the rout of German troops began, he’d been positioned in an advance patrol, securing towns and farmland that the Germans surrendered as they fled northeastward.

On Nov. 11, 1918, on the outskirts of the village of Ville sur Haine, just east of the Belgian city of Mons, Pte. Price, his friend Pte. Art Goodmurphy, from Regina, and three others from A Company spotted a hole in a brick wall — evidence of a German machine-gun emplacement. They went to investigate. First, they kicked in the door of Monsieur Stievnart’s house, 15 metres beyond the canal that marked the actual battlefront. The Germans had just fled.

As Goodmurphy tells it, the Canadians then moved next door where the Lenoir family huddled, caught between opposing forces. To celebrate the arrival of the liberating Canadian soldiers, the Lenoirs opened a bottle of wine and shared a toast with the intruders. Just then, machine-gun fire rattled off the walls and roof. Price, with Goodmurphy close behind, ducked outside to locate the source of the fusillade. A single shot rang out. Price half-turned and fell without uttering a word into Goodmurphy’s arms. The bullet had pierced his heart. He died at 10:58 a.m.

The others did not know that at 6:30 a.m. that morning a message had gone to the Allied command centre in Mons, announcing that an armistice had been signed and the war would end at 11 a.m.

582px version of Price-Memorial.jpg
This memorial to George Price is very near where he was shot in the Belgian town of Ville-sur-Haine. A new larger memorial, to be unveiled on Nov. 11, 2018, was initiated by locals, French historians and Canadian soldiers. Photo source: VisitMons.

In 1968, members of Price’s regiment journeyed to the site of his death to unveil a commemorative plaque to their comrade, the last Allied soldier to die on the Western Front in the First World War and the last of 66,655 Canadians to be killed in action. The memorial was moved several years later to make way for a widened canal. Nearby, at the cemetery of St. Symphorien, Price is buried. Not far from his grave in the same cemetery lies the body of Pte. J. Parr of the British Middlesex Regiment — the first Allied soldier to die in the First World War. The final Allied push recaptured the very ground lost in the war’s first days. The war ended exactly where it began — at Mons, Belgium. Between the deaths of these two men lay four years of terrible conflict and the death of 20 million others.

The precise details of why Canadian Private George Lawrence Price stepped into the line of fire two minutes before war’s end remain “fluid,” according to one chronicler sifting conflicting accounts. A new memorial to Price will be opened on Nov. 11, 2018 near the site where he died. It’s not far from the George Price elementary school in Mons.  [Tyee]

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