Monday, November 11, 2013

George Lawrence Price: The Last Battlefield Fatality of World War I

Heather Cox Richardson

The guns in Europe fell silent on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

George Lawrence Price
But that was three minutes too late for Canadian Private George Lawrence Price, serving in Belgium, who was shot by a German sniper at 10:57 and died a minute later.

Ten minutes before the armistice, Price and two other men in his company had begun to search homes
from which Germans had just been firing machine guns. They found only civilians in the first two homes they searched. As they stepped back into the street, a single shot hit Price in the chest. He fell into the arms of his comrade, who pulled him back into the house they had just left. As Price died, German soldiers cleared their guns in a last burst of machine gun fire that greeted the armistice.

Price’s commanding officer was furious that the men had taken it upon themselves to search the houses, commenting “Hell of a note, to think that that would happen right when the war’s over.”

He was not the only one to note the significance of Price’s death. It came to symbolize the seemingly pointless slaughter of World War I. When an irony of history put Price in the same cemetery as the first Allied soldier to die in the war, disgusted observers commented that the war had apparently been fought over a half-mile of land.

But what about the man who shot Private Price? We do not know who he was; although Price became well known, the shooter never acknowledged his part in that final drama. He lived in anonymity. What induced him to take one last life two minutes before the end of a world war? And how did he remember that final shot?

1 comment:

Eric B. Schultz said...

A really good reminder, too, that while we tend to count the deaths from war in thousands and millions arrayed against one another on a comparative statistical table, each and every death has its own heartbreaking story.