It is well documented Private #256265 George Lawrence Price was killed by a sniper two minutes before the Armistice on 11th November 1918. He was the last Canadian soldier to die in combat during the First World War.
But who was the first casualty?
The answer to this question is neither straightforward nor simple. Therefore, to whom does this sad ‘distinction’ belong?
There are two candidates to be considered but neither soldier died in actual combat.
Firstly, there was British born Private #T/619 Harry B Little of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry who passed away in Canada.
He enlisted on the 10 August 1914. However, Harry died four days later from heart failure whilst on a troop train travelling through Alberta and bound for the ship that would have carried him across the Atlantic. He was buried at Czar Cemetery in Alberta.
The second contender for this dubious ‘honour’ was Private #25844 William Herbert Vaughan Hartley who was the first casualty to die in Europe. He was born at Blackburn in Lancashire and only 37 years old when he died.
Enlisting on 21st September 1914 at Valcartier in Quebec, he served with the 1st Royal Montreal Regiment. William sailed with the First Contingent as part of a convoy of thirty-three transport ships arriving in Plymouth Sound, England at dawn on 8th October 1914.
The arrival of over thirty-three thousand Canadians was a complete surprise to the British people, who turned out in their thousands to welcome the men. The troops, their vehicles, equipment and many horses were disembarked, then taken by train to their tented camps on Salisbury Plain over the course of the next ten days.
A few days later, on 19th October 1914, Private Hartley was found lying in a field by Shrewton Village on Salisbury Plain. William had apparently suffered an epileptic fit and died of exposure in the damp cold conditions.
Two newspapers reported his death which occurred 104 years ago today.
Toronto Star (undated)
Toronto Star 20 October 1914
Pte Hartley’s name is on Page 1 of the
First World War Book of Remembrance
Both of these men died whilst serving in the Canadian Military and are deservedly remembered as war veterans.
They died before seeing action in the trenches which makes their deaths no less sad and tragic.