The heartbreaking stories of 11 Commonwealth servicemen who died on the very last day of World War One have been revealed complete with colourised pictures and poignant letters home.
The last of the fallen included a soldier hit by a German machine gun who died just three minutes before the guns fell silent at 11am on November 11, 1918, a century ago on Sunday.
Some of the men had survived Gallipoli and Passchendaele, only to die of pneumonia at the last hurdle, while another victim was a 20-year-old mortally wounded by a machine gun in a last-ditch German attack.
The men were spread across the globe when they died, with one killed by a Bolshevik attack in Russia and another succumbing to malaria in what is now Israel. The tales include poignant letters from the time, as one recruit told his parents that the ‘news is awfully good’ for an imminent peace before he was killed by a shell.
Researchers from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who unearthed the servicemen’s stories believe that 860 British and imperial troops died on November 11, 1918, just hours before the end of the war.
Dr Glyn Prysor, the commission’s chief historian, said: ‘It’s a poignant statistic, but every name carved on our headstones and memorials represents not just a death but also a life. There were families and communities across the world which would never be the same.
‘This Remembrance Sunday is an opportunity to reflect on all those who died on the long road to peace and those they left behind. We’ve been honouring them for over a hundred years, and the end of the centenary of the First World War is another milestone in our work which continues today, tomorrow and forever.’
Survivor of Gallipoli and Passchendaele felled by pneumonia: Sergeant Francis Coulam, Auckland Infantry Regiment, aged 27
Survivor of Gallipoli and Passchendaele: Francis Coulam was awarded the Military Medal for his service
Born in New Zealand, Francis Coulam was the son of a sailmaker, had more than a dozen brothers and sisters and worked as a storeman in Auckland before the war.
He enlisted in February 1915, aged 23, and was shipped out to Egypt as part of the reinforcements for the British Empire’s efforts to seize the Gallipoli Peninsula, in a bid to break the deadlock in Europe.
Joining the 1st Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment, he endured the blistering heat of the Turkish peninsula and the constant dangers of sniping, shelling and disease.
During the campaign he had to be evacuated to Egypt for hospital treatment for enteritis and inflammation of bowels caused by the unsanitary conditions on the peninsula.
He rejoined his unit in July 1916, which by this time had moved to Armentieres, in France, where he was wounded in action and promoted to Lance Corporal.
Francis saw action during the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele. On 4 October, the New Zealand Division attacked the Bellevue Spur and suffered horrific casualties, the highest death toll in New Zealand’s history.
He was awarded the Military Medal for his part in the battle, with the citation saying: ‘For conspicuous gallantry in the field… [he] handled the men under his command in a most capable manner and took part in a lot of severe fighting, he himself accounting for a great number of the enemy with the bayonet.
‘He was cool and level headed throughout and let nothing hinder the advance of his platoon to the objective.’
Francis was eventually sent back to New Zealand in the spring of 1918 and discharged in July, but on the last day of the war he died of complications from influenza and pneumonia, aged 27.
He is buried in Auckland Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland.
Military Cross hero killed in a German last stand: Ralph Piggot Whittington-Ince, 11th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, aged 20
Military Cross hero killed in a German last stand: Ralph Piggot Whittington-Ince
Ralph Piggott Whittington-Ince was the son of a vicar, born in Milan in March 1898 and educated in Shropshire before passing through Sandhurst.
He was commissioned into the East Yorkshire Regiment in April 1916 and arrived for combat in France on February 1, 1917.
In November that year he took part in an attack on the Western Front for which he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.
The citation reads: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during a daylight raid. He led his platoon close behind the barrage and penetrated 350 yards into the enemy’s support line.
‘He brought rapid fire to bear on the fleeing enemy, driving them into our artillery barrage, and when the remainder refused to come out of their dugouts, he had them all blown up. He handled his platoon with great skill both during the advance and withdrawal.’
On the early evening of November 10, 1918, the Germans made a last stand in front of the village of Flobecq in Belgium.
Ralph, who was in charge of C Company at the time, was badly wounded by machine-gun fire and died of his wounds the following day.
His Colonel paid tribute, saying: ‘He has done such excellent work with the battalion. I cannot tell you how much we all feel his death; he has served so long in the battalion and was loved by all ranks.’
He is commemorated in Vichte Military Cemetery in Belgium.
Australian soldier who died in the desert: Trooper Lyle Jocelyn Chase, 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment, aged 40
Australian trooper who died in the desert: Lyle Jocelyn Chase, who joined up with his brother in 1917
Lyle Jocelyn Chase grew up on a sheep farm in New South Wales, Australia, before enlisting in July 1917 along with his brother William.
As ranchers, both brothers stated a preference for service with the Australian Light Horse and after several months of training in Sydney they were sent overseas.
They left for the Middle East in March 1918, taking a boat to Palestine where they both came down with measles and needed hospital treatment.
Once they arrived on land Lyle joined the 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment near Wadi Al-Auja, north of Jericho.
British and imperial forces in Palestine went on the offensive in September, and Lyle and William took part in the Allied victory at the Battle of Megiddo.
William was wounded and was evacuated back to hospital in Gaza, while Lyle continued the advance towards Damascus.
Ottoman forces agreed an armistice in October 1918 but the Light Horse remained in the desert, training and carrying out their daily duties.
While there Lyle was taken ill on November 2 and died of malaria and pneumonia nine days later on Armistice Day.
He is buried in Ramleh War Cemetery in what is now Israel. William Chase survived to return home to his wife and farm in Marrickville, New South Wales.
Garrison soldier struck down by Spanish flu in Bulgaria: Private Ernest Shaw, 2nd Garr. Bn The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) 90570, aged 34
Garrison soldier struck down by Spanish flu in Bulgaria: Private Ernest Shaw
Born in 1883 in Chorley, Lancashire, to cotton weaver James and Mary Shaw, Ernest was the second youngest of four children.
After schooling he worked as a bottler with a local mineral water manufacturer. In August 1911 he married Ellen Green and they had a son, Thomas, born in 1913.
During the war he served with the 3rd (Home Service) Garrison Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment.
These were units which often consisted of older men, perhaps in less than peak physical condition, who were unsuitable for front line service but could guard military bases and strategic locations.
Ernest was then transferred to the 2nd Garrison Battalion, King’s (Liverpool Regiment), part of the British Salonika Force serving on the Macedonia Front in northern Greece, fighting against the Bulgarians.
He spent time in and out of the front lines around Lake Doiran and after a major Allied offensive in September 1918, Bulgaria became the first of the Central Powers to sign an armistice.
Just as the fighting was coming to an end, influenza struck the British Salonika Force. In four months over 2,000 of their number had died of disease, many of them already weakened by malaria which had plagued those in Salonika throughout the war.
Ernest was one of those who succumbed to the ‘Spanish Flu’, and died on November 11, 1918. The flu would go on to ravage the war-torn nations in the months after the war ended.
Shaw is buried in Kirechkoi-Hortakoi Military Cemetery in Greece. Inscribed on his headstone are the words: ‘Laid to rest in a far away land to memory ever dear’.
Welsh Guard who married just weeks before the Armistice: Lance Serjeant Frank Trott, 2/ Welsh Guards, aged 31
Welsh Guard who married just weeks before the Armistice: Lance Serjeant
Frank Trott was born in Bristol, and grew up on a farm in Butcombe, Somerset, before moving to Pontypridd, South Wales.
Before the war, he worked as a plate layer for a railway company and then served with the Glamorgan Constabulary in Porthcawl.
In April 1915, he resigned – like many other police officers from South Wales – to join the newly-formed Welsh Guards.
Frank saw action in the Battle of Loos in the autumn of 1915, and continued to serve on the Western Front until the Welsh Guards joined the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, moving into the newly-captured village of Ginchy.
Frank was wounded in the chest helping to defend the village from a German counter-attack, and was treated at Rouen before being evacuated back to Britain on 16 September.
After convalescing, Frank was posted to the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion, of the Welsh Guards, based in Surrey, helping to train new recruits. Discharged to the reserve in June 1918, Frank moved back to Porthcawl and re-joined the police force.
On October 21, 1918, Frank married Annie David in St. John’s Church, Newton Nottage. Yet their marriage would last less than a month, after Frank succumbed to pneumonia which was complicated by the wounds he had received on the Somme.
He died on November 11, 1918, and was buried three days later in the churchyard of the church in which he had been married just a few weeks before.
Almost the whole town turned out for the funeral, including his police comrades, and many wounded and ex-servicemen. He is buried at Newton Nottage (St John the Baptist) Churchyard.
Soldier killed by a shell after telling parents of ‘awfully good news’: Second Lieutenant Noel Everard Evans, 121st Bty. 27th Bde. Royal Field Artillery, aged 29
Soldier killed by a shell after telling parents of ‘awfully good news’: Second Lieutenant Noel Everard Evans
Noel Evans was born in 1898 near Wrexham. His father was Rev. Enoch Evans, a Church of England clergyman, and his mother Violet was the daughter of a retired Major of Dragoons Thomas Everard Hutton, who had been present at the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, during the Crimean War.
He began a degree at Jesus College, Oxford, but left his studies to join the army, becoming a temporary Second Lieutenant with the Royal Field Artillery in July 1918.
His brother Morgan, who was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in Italy early in 1918, was serving in the same brigade.
Noel wrote home on October 5, 1918: ‘Very busy so cannot write much, and there is only a candle to write by as I am down in the depth of the earth.
‘Having quite a good time and I went up to the gun line yesterday; they had had a great day with the Boche. Morgan and I have succeeded very well in missing each other ever since we first met.
‘His battery is alongside ours at present. I think the news is awfully good: Bulgaria and Turkey given in: we won’t take long at that rate!’
However he did not live to see the peace as on November 4, just a week before the Armistice, Noel was seriously wounded by a shell in a German barrage.
Noel was evacuated back to hospital in Rouen, where the end of hostilities meant that his parents could cross the Channel to visit him in hospital, but he died on November 11.
In a letter dated November 15, his father wrote: ‘It has been the hardest week to bear of my life… the suspense at the last moment when we reached the hospital and the crushing words of the matron: “I am afraid I have bad news for you”.
‘We were too late. He had passed away on Monday morning in the early hours, strange to say just about the time the armistice was signed!’
On their return home the Evans family received a letter from Noel’s Commanding Officer detailing exactly how Noel was wounded. It is published in full at the bottom of the article.
Australian who signed up as soon as he turned 18: Driver Richard Robert Moxham, Australian Army Service Corps, aged 20
Australian who signed up as soon as he turned 18: Driver Richard Robert Moxham
Richard Moxham was born in Guildford, New South Wales, in 1898. Before the war he worked as an apprentice blacksmith and lived in Granville, on the outskirts of Sydney.
When he was just 18 he married Alma Alexandra Moyle and then joined up for the army. He was so young that his parents had to give their consent, which they did.
Signing up to fight he was posted overseas with the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC), arriving at Devonport, Plymouth, on Boxing Day 1917.
After months of training on Salisbury Plain, Richard finally crossed to France in September 1918, joining a divisional train just west of the town of Peronne on October 3.
The divisional trains provided transport, usually horse-drawn carts and wagons, including supply columns which took all the ammunition and supplies needed by a division from base depots to supply dumps.
On October 29, Richard reported sick and was admitted to the 12th Australian Field Ambulance suffering with influenza.
By November 5 he was in a hospital in Rouen and his condition had become critical. On the last day of the war he died of broncho-pneumonia, aged 20. He is buried in Rouen.
Scottish soldier killed in a Bolshevik ambush in Russia: Corporal John Livingston, 2/10th Royal Scots, aged 23
Scottish soldier killed in a Bolshevik ambush in Russia: Corporal John Livingston
John Livingston, born in Glasgow in 1895, was the eldest son of George Livingston, a pit fireman at Dalmeny Crude Oil Company, and Jane Livingston, of 5 Railway Cottages, Dalmeny.
He worked at a crude oil company before enlisting as a Private in the 1/10th Royal Scots (Lewis Gun Section) in May 1914, three months before the war broke out.
Arriving in France, he was posted to the 2nd Royal Scots and by April 1917 had earned a promotion to Lance Corporal.
His time on the Western Front was cut short when he suffered a serious gunshot wound in his left thigh in September 1917, forcing him back to the UK where he was declared unfit for front-line duty.
Instead he was posted to the 2/10th Royal Scots, with whom he went to Russia, where Allied forces were intervening in the country’s civil war and backing anti-Communist forces against Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
He was promoted to Corporal in September 1918 but was killed in action on November 11, during a Bolshevik attack on his blockhouse near Troitsa, 200 miles south of Archangel on the River Dwina.
He has no known grave and is commemorated on the CWGC Archangel Memorial in Russia.
Former barman who served from the start of the war: Private George Edwin Ellison, 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers, aged 40
Former barman who served from the start of the war: Private George Edwin Ellison
George Ellison worked as a barman in a pub in Hartlepool as a youngster but he had joined the military by 1903, serving with the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers.
The Lancers were among the first to arrive in France when war was declared in 1914, seeing action south-east of Mons before the end of August.
George arrived in France shortly afterwards, after being called up from the reserves, and was sent to reinforce his unit.
The 5th Lancers suffered their first major casualties in late October and early November fighting near Ypres, and were in action again during the Second Battle of Ypres in April and May 1915.
With the onset of trench warfare, the cavalry had been forced to dismount and serve as infantry, often performing security duty behind the lines and acting as a reserve for the infantry.
After surviving some of the earliest battles, George went on to serve throughout the war and was still on the battlefields on November 8, in the days before the Armistice.
Cavalry was back in demand in the more mobile warfare of the end of the war, and squadrons of the 5/Lancers were attached to the Canadian Corps to act as scouts for their advance into Belgium.
On the morning of November 11, the Lancers were ordered to advance through Mons and over the canal to secure high ground around St. Denis.
At around 9.30am they were crossing the canal when George was hit by German fire and killed. He is buried in St Symphorien Military Cemetery, just outside Mons.
George’s older brother Frederick Thomas Ellison was a skipper on a fishing vessel before the war and was called up to the Royal Naval Reserve on the outbreak of hostilities.
He served on board HM Trawler Towhee, converted into a minesweeper, spending much of the war on escort and patrol duty in the English Channel.
On June 15, 1917, the Towhee disappeared in English Channel. Frederick and his crew are commemorated on the Portsmouth and Chatham Naval Memorials. Frederick was 40 years old, and left behind a wife, Maud, and two sons.
Canadian soldier who ‘died at three minutes to eleven’ on the day of the Armistice: Private George Lawrence Price, 28th Bn. Canadian Infantry, aged 25
George Price, whose service record states he died at three minutes to eleven on the day of the Armistice
George Price grew up in Canada and worked as a farm labourer before joining the army in October 1917 at Regina, Saskatchewan.
Sent to join Canadian forces in Europe, he arrived at Liverpool in February 1918. He was assigned to the 28th (Northwest) Battalion, Canadian Infantry and crossed the Channel later that year.
On September 8, the battalion was at Buissy, near Vis-en-Artois, when German artillery fired gas and high explosive shells into the trenches.
George and several others suffered from gas inhalation, and were taken to Etaples for treatment, but he rejoined the battalion in October ready for the final advance to the French-Belgian border.
On the night of November 10-11 the 28th Battalion began moving into the frontlines ready to continue the advance through the southern outskirts of Mons towards the village of Havre and up to the banks of the Canal du Centre.
At around 9am, as they helped to clear the Bois de Havre, word reached them that hostilities would cease that day at 11am.
Shortly before 11am, George Price was part of a small group which crossed the canal to investigate houses on the far side.
After crossing the bridge, George was hit by a bullet in the chest, and died shortly afterwards. The battalion’s war diary records George’s death at approximately 10.50, while his service record states ‘three minutes to eleven’.
One of George’s comrades Arthur Goodmurphy recounted what happened nearly 50 years later:
He was originally buried in Havre Old Communal Cemetery, but his grave was moved after the Second World War to St. Symphorien Military Cemetery.
19-year-old sailor who died in last attack on Belgian village: Able Seaman Harold Edgar Walpole, Anson Battalion, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, aged 19
19-year-old sailor who died in last attack on Belgian village: Able Seaman Harold Edgar Walpole
Born in 1899, Harold Walpole worked for the Kettering Co-operative Clothing Factory and was also involved with his local church, both as a bell-ringer and member of the Parish Church choir.
During the war Harold and his four brothers all enlisted, serving with various regiments of the British Army. Harold joined up on 11 September 1917, two months after his 18th birthday.
He chose to join the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve for service with the Royal Naval Division (RND). The RND was made up of sailors and marines who served on land as infantry.
After initial training Harold was drafted to the Anson Battalion in April 1918, which was holding the line north of the river Somme, near the village of Beaumont-Hamel.
In August, he took part in the Allied advance which had begun at Amiens, attacking the village of Thilloy. Harold was wounded in the right leg and evacuated but rejoined his unit in time for the Battle of the Canal du Nord in September, and further fighting near Cambrai.
On November 8 the Anson Battalion advanced into Belgium, just east of the city of Valenciennes and two days later were just south of Mons when they were given orders to capture Villers-Saint-Ghislain.
They attacked just after noon on November 10, and German forces fought back fiercely, but were eventually defeated that evening.
During the attack the battalion suffered casualties of 64 wounded and ten killed, one of whom was Harold, who was mortally wounded. He died the following day, aged 19, as the guns fell silent.
He is buried in Nouvelles Communal Cemetery in France.
To access the full list of stories featured in the CWGC Road to Peace campaign, visit the CWGC website at www.cwgc.org
The CWGC is extremely grateful to software company Shoothill, who freely colourised the images for Eleven for the Eleventh using their state of the art technology, PhotoVamp.
‘We feel we have lost a great friend’: Poignant letter to fallen soldier Noel Evans’s parents from his commanding officer
Dear Mr Evans,
On behalf of the officers, NCOs and men of the 121st Battery, I wish to express our deep sympathy with you all in the loss of your dear son who, although he had only been with us a short time, had won the hearts of all the men. We in the Mess feel that we have lost a great friend; he was always so cheery, no matter what the conditions were.
We had been in rest for a few days and had received orders to get ammunition up to a position full East of Beaudiquies (about a mile SW of Le Quesnoy). Noel was in charge of the ammunition wagons on the night of the 2nd Nov, and I am afraid he had rather a bad time as the Hun was putting quite a number of machine gun bullets and shells all over the area he had to cover. This did not upset him in the least, and when I saw him in the morning he was very cheery and had treated it as rather a fine joke. On the morning of the 3rd November, I said to him ‘You must come up to the guns with us tonight and fight the last battle of the last war’, and this he did.
We had to occupy the position after dark, as it was very exposed, and from the time we got in until Noel was hit, we had a very bad time. Shells and machine gun bullets simply rained on the position, and before we opened fire at all we had lost several men, killed and wounded. We were to open up a barrage at 5.30am but Noel was to do the second hour on duty and so remained with me in what shelter we had. This was a scrape in the ground about 7′ x 7′ x 2′ deep with a tarpaulin drawn over the top.
During the first hour we had a very exciting time as the Hun put down his barrage on the battery as soon as we opened, and kept it up for about 2 hours. During the whole of this time he was missing our little dug-out by inches; once he hit the corner of it and cut the ‘paulin to ribbons, wounding two telephonists who were with us.
The parents of Noel Evans received a letter from his commanding officer after he died on November 11. He was one of the British and Commonwealth servicemen who died on the last day of the war, when crowds gathered in London (pictured) after hearing the news
At about 6.30 am Noel went on duty and remained at the guns till 7.30am. Soon after this, at about 7.45am I should think, I was standing outside the dig-out and Noel walked towards me and we stood chatting for a few minutes; then I returned to the dug-out and just stood under the ‘paulin when a shell burst a few yards away.
Our cook, who stood at the entrance of the dug-out, fell over on top of us, shot though the neck, and I was busy bandaging him while Noel was brought in. He appeared to be slightly wounded in the left thigh and right heel, and a tiny splinter was pulled out of the back of his head.
His thigh seemed to worry him the most, but the hit on the head had caused him to go temporarily blind; this we put down to concussion. His memory, too, seemed a little impaired as he seemed to worry rather about me, and several times asked whether I had been hit. Each time I told him that I had not, but he seemed to forget and asked again.
The morning was very cold and although we put blankets and coats over him, he still shivered a good deal. He seemed quite himself right up to the time he left us and was very cheery. Nobody, of course, thought that he had been fatally wounded and we said before he left that we hoped soon to see him back. We were all very shocked when we heard of his death, and could not realise it for a long time.
Noel was a very promising soldier, and only a few days before he was hit, I had been urging him to apply for a regular commission. This he was going to do, but had not done before he left us. Let me again say how deeply we feel for you all in your bereavement. The knowledge that he died gallantly doing his duty is your consolation.
Yours very sincerely, L. Bonner.
Major L Bonner, 121st Battery, RFA