Genes Reunited Blog
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At 05.10 on the morning of November 11th 1918, a German delegation led by Matthias Erzberger signed the terms of the Armistice under the watchful eyes of British and French officials.
The British public was informed by an official communiqué issued from the Press Bureau at 10:20 am, when Prime Minister David Lloyd George announced: "The armistice was signed at five o'clock this morning, and hostilities are to cease on all fronts at 11 a.m. to-day." At 10:50 am, Marshal Ferdinand Foch issued the general order; "Hostilities will cease on the whole front as from November 11 at 11 o'clock French time The Allied troops will not, until further order, go beyond the line reached on that date and at that hour."
As news reached London, Big Ben rang out for the first time since the war began and, in Paris, gas lamps across the city were lit for the first time in many years. The time for the cease fire had been set at 11 am to allow time for word to spread along both the allied and German lines. However, a combination of communication failures and the will-full blindness of some commanders meant that an estimated 11,000 casualties occurred that day, more than the entire number of men killed, wounded or reported missing during the D-Day landings 26 years later.
A significant number of these casualties occurred around Mons, the sight of the first engagement between British and German forces. One of these casualties was Private George Edwin Ellison, the last British soldier of the First World War to be killed in action.
Census returns show that Private Ellison was born in York to James W Ellison and his wife Hannan Maria in 1878. He may have been a veteran of the Boer war as his Commonwealth Casualty War graves records give his service number as L /12643, suggesting he was indeed a pre-war regular who joined the army early in the 20th century. During his four years on the Front he had survived almost every type of warfare and fought in some of the worst battles of the war including the retreat from Mons, Ypres, Cambrai and Loos. He fought in the very first trenches, survived the first gas attack and witnessed the first tanks roll across the Somme.
On the morning of the 11th, Ellison, then serving in the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, was patrolling a section of woodland on the outskirts of Mons. He was struck by a single bullet at 9.30 am and died almost instantly making him the last British casualty of the war. Despite enduring four years of unimaginable horror, Ellison died only an hour and half before it was all over, never to return to his home at 49, Edmund Street, Bank, Leeds. He left behind his wife Hannah and son, James Cornelius, who was just 5 days short of his fifth birthday when his father was killed.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show Ellison was buried in the St Symphorien military cemetery, just southeast of Mons. His grave faces that of the Private John Henry Parr, the very first British Serviceman to be killed in the war only a matter of miles away from where Ellison was shot.
Sadly, Ellison was not the last soldier to die that day. A number of American commanders, including General John J Pershing, died after the armistice had been signed. At 10.45 another 40-year-old soldier, Frenchman Augustin Trebuchon, was taking a message to troops saying that soup was to be served at 11.30 after the peace, when he was killed and just minutes before 11am, to the north around Mons, a 25-year-old Canadian named Private George Lawrence Price was shot entering a cottage during fierce street fighting and, at 10.58, US soldier Henry Gunther was killed in a final charge and is recognised as the very last man killed.