Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities in the Great War.
Canadians will mark this day as they have for the last century with two minutes* of silence. We will remember the 61,000 men and women who died in uniform, most of whom are buried overseas in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, some so badly damaged they couldn’t be identified, their graves marked with headstones inscribed A Canadian Soldier of the Great War—Known unto God, others whose bodies were never found and who are remembered at monuments in Ypres and Vimy Ridge.
We also remember the 173,000 Canadians who were wounded and returned home to get on with their lives as best they could.
The Armistice was signed between 5:10 and 5:20 in the morning. It declared hostilities would cease on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
We will never know the names of all the soldiers who were killed or wounded in the intervening six hours, but we do know the name of the last Canadian soldier to fall.
George Lawrence Price, a Nova Scotia boy, was killed by a sniper’s bullet at 10:58 a.m. just two minutes before the Armistice went into effect.
Price was conscripted on October 15, 1917 and joined the 28th Battalion. On November 11, 1918 the Battalion had moved into position next to a canal near a small town in Belgium. At 9:00 a.m. the Battalion received word that hostilities would end at 11:00 a.m. According to Art Goodworthy, a fellow soldier, Price and Goodworthy were worried the Battalion was exposed to enemy fire from the other side of the canal. They decided to take a small patrol into town to search the houses and encountered German sniper fire. Price was stuck by a bullet and died two minutes before 11:00 a.m.
Tim Cook, author and co-curator of Canada’s 100 Days exhibit at the Canadian War Museum, describes the Great War as “industrial-scale slaughter”. We remember it in small stories of men and women who lost the chance to live and laugh, and perhaps, if they’d survived, change the arc of history.
It’s been one hundred years since they made the ultimate sacrifice.
We will never forget.
*Remembrance Day ceremonies vary, some are marked by one minute of silence, others by two.
Susan: Thanks for another great blog. My paternal grandfather was fighting in World War 1, in Europe, before he came to Canada in the mid 1920s. He was in some other war before World War 1, in Eastern Europe. I have uncles who fought in World War 2, and in Korea. Other uncles were in the Air Force, in World War 2. All returned alive. I also have other relatives who are in the Canadian Air Force today. I thank all the men and women who helped fight for the freedoms we now enjoy. Freedom is something that many of us take for granted. We should not forget who helped us have our freedom. #LestWeForget
Dwayne when I read about families like yours where generations fought to protect the freedoms we hold dear I’m struck by the knuckleheads who cheer on politicians like Trump who is busy sweeping those freedoms away. It didn’t take long for Trump to strip away the the political norms that used to mean something in a democratic society. Doug Ford demonstrated the same can happen in Canada. He said he’d use the “notwithstanding clause” to get around a court that tried to restrict his ability to reduce the size of Toronto’s city council. This was a huge blow to the norms that rein in abuse of political power and yet we’ve already forgotten about it and moved on.
Susan: I agree. Look at what is happening in Alberta, with the UCP. Very scary. People have short and selective memories and turn a blind eye to these things. On news channels, it’s quite similar. Priaise goes to Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, and Maxime Bernier, while bashing Justin Trudeau, immigrants and Muslims.
All due to the cruelty and stupidity of mankind.
Linda, you’ve summarized it very well. The cruelty, stupidity, hubris and greed of mankind harms us and the planet. The magnitude of the pain is reflected in monuments line the National War Memorial as well as smaller monuments like the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park, London. This simple monument depicts the animals that served and died in British military endeavors. The animals, like the young men and women who served went to war out of loyal to their masters, regardless of how stupid and self serving the masters turned out to be. It brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. Here’s a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animals_in_War_Memorial
Gosh that would be extremely sad to see.
Canada May have been born on 1 July 1867, but it came of age in the First World War. Canada earned its full independence from Great Britain in that horrible war. The following year, at Versailles, Canada signed an international treaty for the first time in its own right, instead of being subsumed into the UK’s signature.
Of course, the “Great War” must also be viewed with a critical eye. The fundamental reason for the fighting was not some great moral crusade against unfathomable evil, as the Second World War would be; while Germany’s violation of Belgium was the proximate cause of the British Empire’s entry into the continental conflict, the scale of the slaughter was not justified by the political disputes at issue. And the postwar settlement in fact settled nothing, and was a major contributor to the emergence of the political extremism that led to the next war.
But all of that does nothing to detract from the heroism of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who went, most of whom were volunteers—conscripts were a tiny fraction of the combat troops on the Western Front—and the tens of thousands who never came back. You can support the troops, who are after all only doing the job we at home have sent them to do, and still be critical of the political forces that sent them there.
I did some math, to put some perspective on the numbers. Canada lost about 66,000 lives over four years in the First World War, from a country of only about 8 million. In the latter half of the 20th century, the United States, in what was the great national trauma of the time, lost about 58,300 in Vietnam, over a 20-year period. But the US had 205 million people in 1970. If their losses in Southeast Asia had been on the same scale as Canada’s in 1914-18, that black wall in Washington would need room for 8.5 million names. Something to think about.
Jerry: great comments. Thanks for putting Canada’s loss into perspective. As you point out, the carnage was catastrophic. My husband and youngest daughter went to the Maritimes last year and said some towns were utterly decimated.
As you said, sometimes the justification for going to war is pretty weak. Also, the argument that “good things” came out of a war can be faulty. For example, there’s an exhibit at The Canadian War Museum relating to the role of women in WW2. Notwithstanding all the hype about Rosie the Riveter, WW2 wasn’t a turning point for women in the workforce. Many women working in factories were already in the workforce, albeit in lower paying jobs, others joined up out of patriotism, however when the war ended they were all sent home or back to their lower paying jobs. Women didn’t start making real inroads in workforce until the 1950s to 1990s. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-630-x/11-630-x2015009-eng.htm
Although most of the WWI vets are long gone now, as a youngster I used to see this old guy around town shovelling sidewalks and doing other things to keep himself busy. He had no ears, loosing them during WWI.
Years later, when I was workinng in senior maintenance care, I visited the house of an old English couple. They invited me in for tea afterwards and I soon learned he was wounded during the first day of the first battle of WWI. He managed to skip the rest of the war. There’s a netflix movie about it.
My own dad was a vet, landing in Sicily in July 43 and ending up in northern Italy by Feb 45 when the Cds in Italy were sent to Holland. A couple of years ago I stumbled across some old footage of Canadians repairing a bridge in Holland in April 1945. There had been a tank battle there the day before but during the night the Germans abandoned it. I saw my dad standing in the middle of the crowd, waiting for the bridge to get repaired.
He must have been nervous because later that day he drove the first bren carrier across the bridge to liberate the city on the other side. Thousands of people flocked into the streets as he drove. The co had to shoot his pistol in the air to keep people away. This was the last action is regiment was involved in, as it was put in reserve a couple weeks before the end of WWII. His WWII story had come to an end.
Ronmac, these are incredible stories! How fortunate you are to have found footage of your dad on the eve of the liberation of a Dutch city, that’s remarkable. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to enter the city after months or years of occupation.
My husband and I visited the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam a few years ago. The exhibits show what life was like after the Germans occupied Holland. The oppression of the Jews started slowly but quickly intensified. In response to the oppression of the Jews the Dutch reacted by falling into three types of behavior: adapt (basically ignore it and hope it goes away), collaborate (try to benefit from the occupation) or resist (actively fight the occupiers). The museum shows the consequences of each decision and asks the visitors what would you do. It’s very moving.
Not all Germans were involved in the holocaust. Consider Johannes Blaskowitz , the German general opposing Canadian forces in Holland during the closing months of WWII. He wasn’t a big fan of Hitler or Nazism and kept a channel of communication with the allies to ensure food delivery for the Dutch population. He also may have been the first person to document Nazi atrocities against Jews.
Thanks for the link, ronmac. I note Hitler called Blaskowitz’s actions “childish antics”. I suppose this is in keeping with the Hitler’s view that if any of his troops objected to what he was doing, the fault lay with them, not the Fuhrer.