The tiny village of Ville-sur-Haine carries a huge WWI memory: The final moments of Canadian George Price.
The Belgian village of Ville-sur-Haine has yet to make it into any travel guides. It has no entries on TripAdvisor and evenWikipedia gives it less than a dozen lines. In short, this is a village you don't stumble upon by accident. It's an ordinary place filled with ordinary people - whose ordinary lives were at center of the storm throughout the First World War. I couldn't help but think that every farm, every house we passed had been an unwilling host for so much suffering.
You don't visit Ville-sur-Haine by accident - and it was no accident we were there. We were on a quest of sorts, determined to trace the final steps of one Private George Price, a solider in the Canadian military in the First World War.
George Price was born just a few hours from where I grew up in Nova Scotia. With his handsome, gentle face he could be anyone's neighbor or friend. But history has memorialized George Price with a far crueler distinction, for he was the last Commonwealth soldier killed in the First World War. The more I read about Price, the more I wanted to learn about him.
Had it been any other day of the war, its likely that Price's legacy would be all but obscured from memory, just another soldier, just another death. But when Price died in Ville-sur-Haine at 10:58 am on November 11, 1918, just two minutes before the armistice came into effect, he became a symbol for the senseless loss of war.
The villagers of Ville-sur-Haine wanted to provide a coffin to bury Price in their church cemetery but, in accordance with military protocol, Price was wrapped in a blanket and interred in what would become known as the St. Symphorien war cemetery.
“TO THE MEMORY OF 256265 PRIVATE GEORGE LAWRENCE PRICE 28th NORTH WEST BATTALION 6th CANADIAN INFANTRY BRIGADE 2nd CANADIAN DIVISION KILLED IN ACTION NEAR THIS SPOT AT 10.58 HOURS NOVEMBER 11TH 1918 THE LAST CANADIAN SOLDIER TO DIE ON THE WESTERN FRONT IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR ERECTED BY HIS COMRADES NOVEMBER 11TH 1968”
50 years later, the surviving members of his battalion gathered to commemorate his death and erected a plaque on the home where Price passed away. Sadly, that house no longer exists, demolished when the canal separating Havre and Ville-sur-Haine was widened. Today, the plaque is part of a brick memorial commemorating the George Price Footbridge that spans the newly widened canal. Locals say that the brick in the memorial came from the Stievenart family home where the plaque was first revealed - and where Price lived out his last moments.
You don't visit Ville-sur-Haine for the hotels, restaurants, or museums, for it has none. You visit to pay tribute to Price, both for his own sacrifice and for all those whose sacrifice are symbolized in Price's tragic death. You visit because you are Canadian and you want to connect with one of your own. You visit for the sake of the village, the ordinary village with its ordinary people, whose suffering was so extraordinary.
Practical travel information for visiting Ville-sur-Haine
There are no travel amenities in Ville-sur-Haine and just basic amenities in the village of Havre (on the other side of the canal). We passed a corner store, a pizza restaurant, and the Gare de Havre "train station". From what we can tell, it is on a regional train line from Mons, and we recommend you look up the train frequency. When researching the area, don't confuse "Le Havre", a major town in France, with Belgium's Havre (of which there is very little online information).
We based ourselves in Mons and stayed at the Dream Hotel, which really was dreamy! It's a former religious convent and is a beautiful building. We also stocked up on snacks and drinks before departing the city.
We rented a car when we arrived in Amsterdam as it was more economical to drive into Belgium than take the train to Mons and rent locally. Our car came with built in GPS and I would advise investing in a road atlas if your car is GPS free. But follow GPS instructions with caution - it may send you down rural roads that are little more than tractor paths in farm fields! Many rural roads are narrow and sometimes unpaved and you should use caution driving in mud and snow.
The plaque honouring George Price is at the base of the footbridge in Ville-Sur-Haine. The bridge is very striking and impossible to miss and you can easily see the brick memorial from the bridge if you walk across it starting in Havre. For more information on the life and death of George Price, I found this blog very helpful.
Tell us about your travels - how has history influenced where you travel and why?
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3/12/2014 01:15:45 pm
Thanks for highlighting Ville-sur-Haine - even though it's an ordinary town, it sounds like there is much history to be discovered here, and I'm so glad that they keep it alive, even if only by a small plaque.
3/12/2014 02:12:25 pm
It's such an interesting part of the world and there are so many meaningful plaques tucked in the most unassuming places.
4/12/2014 02:17:01 am
So true - you don't need a big city with tons of hotels and restaurants to really enjoy a destination. This was such a moving and special trip - I'll always be glad we got off the beaten path.
5/12/2014 04:41:14 pm
As a history buff, I am riveted by stories such as these. You've beautifully captured the futility of war in your simple prose while simultaneously paying tribute to your countryman. Well done.
6/12/2014 02:31:58 am
Thank you so much for your kind comments Betsy! It was such a moving visit for us and it made us even more appreciative for the sacrifices of others.
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