Today We Remember: The Last Men to Die in WWI
Henry Nicholas John Gunter (USA):
Henry Nicholas John Gunter was born into a German-American family on the 6th June 1895. The family lived in east Baltimore, Maryland and both of his parents where German immigrants. Henry was killed at 10:59 am – just one minute before the armistice was scheduled to take place at 11am.
Henry did not automatically enlist into the armed forces when the war was declared in April of 1917. When he eventually was forced to enlist, he was assigned to the 313th infantry regiment nicknamed ‘Baltimore’s Own’. This was part of the larger 157th Brigade of the 79th division and he arrived in France on July of 1918 as part of the American Expeditionary Forces. Once drafted to the front line, a letter that was written by Henry Gunter was intercepted by the army postal service. The contents of this letter explained the miserable conditions at the front and advised a friend to try anything to avoid being drafted. It was this letter that saw him demoted from sergeant back to private.
Henry Gunter’s unit, known as ‘A’ company, arrived at the Western Front on September 12th 1918 and were heavily involved in fighting on the morning of November 11th. The Armistice with the German army was signed by 5am local time, but would not come into effect until 11am. Henry’s squad approached a roadblock of two German machine guns whilst out on patrol, Gunter, still downtrodden from his demotion, arose against the orders of his sergeant and close friend Ernest Powell and charged with his bayonet towards the German soldiers. The German soldiers, who were already aware of the Armistice that would take effect in one minute, attempted to wave Henry away and did not intend to kill him. Henry, however, carried on the charge firing a shot or two and was killed in a burst of machine gun fire from the German soldiers as he got to a dangerous distance.
The following day, Henry Gunter was specifically mentioned in the ‘order of the day’ as the last American soldier to be killed in World War 1. Following this, the Army posthumously restored Henry’s rank of sergeant and awarded him the Divisional Citation for Gallantry in Action and the distinguished Service Cross.
Years later, a post, number 1858 of the veterans of foreign wars in east Baltimore was named after Henry Gunter. His remains returned to America in 1923 after being exhumed from a military cemetery in France.
George Edwin Ellison (British)
George Edwin Ellison was born in York on the 10th August 1878 and later in his life moved to Leeds. George is widely known to be the last British soldier killed in World War 1. He died at 9:30am, 90 minutes before the Armistice came into effect, whilst on patrol on the outskirts of Mons, Belgium.
George initially joined the Army as a regular soldier before the war, but had left by 1912 when he married and became a coal miner. It was sometime before the outbreak of the war that he was recalled to the army, joining the 5th Royal Irish Lancers and serving at the start of the war.
He fought most prominently in the battle of Mons in 1912, but was also involved in the battles of Ypres, Armentieres, La Bassee, Lens, Loos and Cambrai on the Western Front. He was 40 years old at the time of his death and he is buried in the St Symphorien Military Cemetery.
Ellison’s story was featured in a BBC Timewatch documentary with Michael Palin and in 2018 his story became the inspiration behind the poem ‘Goodnight Kiss’ by Phillip Parker. Furthermore, Leeds Civic Trust and Partners are to unveil a memorial plaque honouring George at Leeds central railway station in November 2018.
George Lawrence Price (Commonwealth)
Private George Lawrence Price was born in Nova Scotia on the 15th December 1982 and raised on Church Street, in what is now known as Port Williams Nova Scotia. George was conscripted into the army on October 15th, 1917 and served with ‘A’ company of the 28th battalion northwest, CEF, Canadian Expeditionary Force. He is traditionally recognised as the last soldier of the British Empire to be killed during the First World War.
The 28th Battalion had orders for the 11th November to advance from Frameries (south of Mons) and continue to the village of Havre. These orders where given with the aim of securing all of the bridges situated on the Canal du Centre. The battalion started to advance at 4am, pushing back light German resistance. They reached their position along the canal facing Ville-sur-Haine by 9am. It was here that the battalion received news of that all hostilities would cease at 11am.
George and his fellow soldier and friend Art Goodworthy were worried that the battalion’s position on the open canal bank was overly exposed to the German soldiers on the opposing side of the canal. They noticed that some bricks had been knocked out from house dormers to create firing positions.
According to Goodworthy, a patrol of five men took it upon themselves to embark on their own patrol across the bridge to search the houses. Reaching the houses, checking them one by one, the patrol discovered German soldiers mounting machine guns along a brick wall overlooking the canal. The German soldiers opened fire on the Canadians to no avail as the Canadian soldiers were protected by brick walls from one of the houses. Aware that they had been discovered and outflanked, the German troops started to retreat.
Before George and his Comrades stepped out to push the German soldiers back, they were kindly warned to be wary of other soldiers by a Belgian family living in the housing.
As George stepped out from the houses onto the street, he was fatally shot by a German sniper on the left side of his chest. Despite being dragged to safety and efforts from a young Belgian nurse who ran across to help, he sadly died a minute later at 10:58am – just two minutes before the armistice.
Price was buried in Havre Old Communal Cemetery. Coincidently this is the resting place of John Parr and George Edwin Ellison, respectively the first and last British soldiers killed during the great war.
In 1991, the town of Ville-sur-Haine erected a new footbridge across the adjacent Canal du Centre. A plebiscite was held on November 11th of that year and the bridge was officially named ‘The George Price Footbridge’. In 2016, Price’s medal set and memorial plaque were donated to the Canadian war museum.