Some recent research has thrown light on the last soldiers to be killed on 11 November 1918. The research clearly shows that In the closing minutes of World War One, the 11:00 cease-fire within touching distance, a handful of soldiers died.
Just after 0500 on the morning of 11 November 1918, officials gathered in a railway carriage and signed a document which would in effect bring to an end the fighting of World War One. Within minutes, news of the Armistice or cease-fire had been flashed around the world that the war was finally over.
But it wasn’t over, because the cease-fire would not come into effect for a further six hours, this was to ensure troops on the frontline would get the news. But, that day many hundreds died, and thousands more injured.
But who was the last to die? New research tells the story of some of the last to fall in WWI. The final British soldier to be killed in action was Private George Edwin Ellison. At 0930 that morning, Pte Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers was on the outskirts of the Belgian town of Mons where German soldiers had been reported in a wood. Aged 40, Pte Ellison was not the typical conscript; he was a pre-war regular soldier; he may even have been a Boer War veteran. It must have been odd for Pte Ellison to be back in Mons again. This is where his war started four years earlier when he was part of the British Expeditionary Force retreating from Mons in August 1914.
Of all the British soldiers that had been killed in those intervening years, it was almost miraculously Pte Ellison had so far escaped totally uninjured. In just over an hour the cease fire would come into force, the war would be over and Pte Ellison, a former coal miner, could return to the terraced street of Leeds, Yorkshire to see his wife Hannah and their four-year-old son James. Then a shot rang out. George was dead.
The last British soldier to be killed in action in WWI.
However, Pte Ellison would not be the last to be killed that morning. As the minutes ticked towards the 1100 cease-fire, more soldiers would fall.
At 1045 another 40-year-old soldier, Frenchman Augustin Trebuchon, was taking a message to troops by the River Meuse saying that soup would be served at 1130 after the peace when he too was killed. Augustin Trebuchon’s grave, along with all those French soldiers killed on 11 November 1918 – is marked 10 November 1918. It is said that after the war France was so ashamed that men would die on the final day that they had all the graves backdated.
Just minutes before 1100, again around Mons, a 25-year-old Canadian Private George Lawrence Price was on the trail of retreating German soldiers. It was street fighting, Private Price had just entered a cottage as the Germans left through the back. On emerging out into the street he was struck by the bullet which killed him.
But even Pte Price’s death, timed at 1058, was not thought to be the last but is generally accepted as such.
Further south in the Argonne region of France, US soldier Henry Gunther was involved in a final charge against totally astonished German troops, who knew the Armistice would occur in seconds! He too was shot.
The Baltimore Private – ironically of German descent – was dead. It was 1059 and Henry Gunther is now recognised as the last soldier to be killed, in action, in World War One.