Those final six hours of the war were surreal. The news of the cease-fire order passed swiftly down the line, but the fighting did not stop. U.S. Army captain Harry Truman, commanding an artillery battery, fired under orders until 10:45 a.m. British troops were ordered forward, with instructions to achieve their objectives by eleven. German fire persisted too. Among those killed were British soldiers wearing the Mons star, veterans of the first battle of the war. Within the German lines, troops waited for news of the negotiations in the midst of preparations for a last battle. Early that morning Georg Bucher went to his company commander to beg for more machine gun ammunition. At 7:15, an attack came; Bucher’s machine guns broke it up before the Americans facing him reached his barbed wire. His company’s casualties were light. One new recruit went down with a chemical burn. Bucher comforted him by telling him how much worse it could have been, how he could have lost his leg. “The youngster seemed, God knew why, to find comfort in my words,” Bucher wrote. At that moment, Bucher’s company commander returned, leaping along like a mad man, shouting “Cease fire at eleven a.m.. Pass the word along, cease fire at eleven.” ….
There was one incident that captured the essence of war on the western front, the distillation of its arbitrary violence. At two minutes to eleven in the vicinity of Mons a Canadian private named George Price was hit by a sniper’s bullet. He died instantly. The man who killed him remains unknown. That man made a choice. He was a marksman, a skilled soldier. He had just moments remaining in which it was legal for him to kill. There was no need to fire, no purpose, and some risk at least to himself and any comrades near him. If he waited until eleven, and then put his gun down, the only consequence would be that a young stranger would go home. Instead, the shot rang out. Two minutes ticked past. The war ended. George Price lay dead.
(More on Price.)
Look, not my bag, but none of the professionals were talking.