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November 11

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In addition to being Corduroy Appreciation Day, November 11 marks the anniversary of the armistice that brought World War I — one of the most irredeemable conflicts in human history — to a pathetic conclusion. The agreement, which called for the cessation of hostilities at precisely 11:00 a.m., was hastily signed between 5:12 and 5:20 a.m. in a rail car in the Compiegne forest, near to the spot where France had capitulated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Over the previous month, the Central Powers and their allies had collapsed one by one. Bulgaria agreed to an armistice at the end of September; the Ottoman Empire fell a month later; in early November, Austria and Hungary signed separate armistice agreements as the empire of the Hapsburgs disintegrated after a mere half century of life. With their allies removed, and with the November Revolution roiling at home, Germany agreed to the armistice on terms dictated completely by their enemies. For their part, the Central Powers offered up nearly seven million dead to this fruitless conflict; nearly nine million of their foes — both combatants and civilians — suffered identical fates. The wounded numbered in the tens of millions. The influenza pandemic stifled the lives of millions more over the next two years, to say nothing of the deacdes of economic despair, ethnic rivalry, open warfare and genocide that ensued.

priceThe last man to die for this epic mistake is conventionally believed to be George Lawrence Price, a 25-year-old Canadian soldier who was shot through the chest by a German sniper at 10:58 a.m., two minutes before the armistice officially took effect. Price was stationed with Company A of the 28th Northwest Battalion, which was ordered to secure the French town of Havre as well as the nearby Canal du Centre. After their company helped to secure both, Price led Arthur Goodmurphy and two other soldiers on an ill-advised patrol of the far side of the canal, where they were sprayed with machine gun fire from a nearby house. While searching for the German soldiers who had fired on him and his men, Price was struck by a single bullet at 10:57 and died, cinematically, in Goodmurphy’s arms less than a minute later. Fifty years after Price’s death, a plaque was erected in his honor in Havre, where his body was originally laid to rest in the Old Communal Cemetery. His body was eventually removed to the St. Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium. There, along with 406 other identified casualties of the war, Price shares a resting ground with the first soldier killed on the Western Front — the sixteen-year-old English Private John Parr, who died near Mons on 21 August 1914.

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