Kingsport man returns to Belgium to help mark 100th anniversary of First World War

Kirk Starratt
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George Price, the last soldier who was killed in the First World War, is still remembered in Belgium, his nephew discovered recently when he travelled with the Canadian contingency to attend ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war.

As if an omen, a solitary butterfly awaited George Barkhouse of Kingsport, sitting on a monument that commemorates his uncle, the last Canadian soldier killed in the First World War.

Barkhouse was visiting Belgium with a Canadian contingency that included Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino for international ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.

“It was very humbling, I can tell you that,” Barkhouse said of his four-day journey to Europe.

Barkhouse, who served for 25 years in the Royal Canadian Navy, said there was a big ceremony at the gravesite of his uncle, Pte. George Price, on Aug. 4. There were about 500 invited guests and a crowd gathered outside the St. Symphorien Cemetery. Barkhouse said there was only one butterfly to be found in an area known for it’s bounty of beautiful butterflies: it was perched on a cross on Price’s grave. He visited the gravesite several times during his visit.

 

Price’s namesake

Barkhouse knew very little of his uncle growing up, other than that he was named after him and he was his mother’s favourite brother. However, he has heard many stories and has learned a great deal about Price over the years.

Price was shot and died near Mons moments before the armistice to end the war came into effect on Nov. 11, 1918. Barkhouse said his uncle was searching for German machine gunners when a sniper shot him from about 400 yards away.

As Price lay dying, he removed a crocheted flower given to him by his fiancée in Saskatchewan that was hidden under his tunic. He gave the flower to a local girl who had witnessed rushed to his assistance after witnessing Price’s fatal injury.

The woman kept the flower for more than 70 years. Her daughter returned it to Barkhouse during his first visit to Belgium in 1991. The presentation was made at the inauguration of the canal footbridge in Ville-sur-Haine, the George Price Bridge.

The flower is currently on loan to Prescott House Museum as part of the ‘Never to Return’ First World War exhibit.

During the trip, Barkhouse also got to meet the Prime Minister of Belgium and said the level of security was impressive when William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were on hand for the commemorative ceremonies.

 

Price “very unlucky”

June Barkhouse, George’s wife, didn’t get to accompany him on the latest journey, but was there in 1991. She said she “made a big trip of it,” realizing she might not get to do it again.

“It was unbelievable how they treated us.  We were happy to go,” June said. “We never thought we’d be treated like royalty or celebrities.”

June said she thinks it’s great that Price’s memory is being honoured and she feels that “he was very unlucky.

“I think war is such a waste but we can’t forget,” she said.

George said they were treated royally on the first trip and he appreciated being given “a chance to go back and pay my respect to those people.” He had to make the decision quickly; having been given a day-and-a-half’s notice.

“Every time you turned around, someone was thanking you,” Barkhouse said.

He had the opportunity this time to visit Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.

“One area near Vimy is still full of craters about 12 feet deep,” he said. They can’t mow the area, so sheep are kept there to take care of the grass. Barkhouse said he was given a tour of the area in a golf cart.

 

Still Remembered

The one thing George wanted to do for certain was to walk on the George Price Bridge and meet the man who was mayor when he first visited in 1991.

“He was waiting for me on the bridge with a big grin,” Barkhouse said.

Barkhouse said monuments are everywhere and he is impressed with the extent to which the people of Belgium still honour the memory of the soldiers from the First World War.

“You can’t put words to it, how seriously they take it,” he said.

He said Canadian soldiers helped liberate the country during both wars and children there “have the highest honour” for them.

Barkhouse said he finds that Canadian schools are “doing a lot better” these days teaching children the importance of remembrance.

When it comes to the sacrifices made by Price and others, Barkhouse said it’s important to know “where our freedom really comes from,” adding that these men paid the sacrifice.

“It’s a shame that we had to use our young men to do things like that but it’s for the freedom of the rest of us that have the privilege to live as we do,” Barkhouse said.

Although he isn’t sure whether or not he’ll be able to make it, Barkhouse has already been invited back to Belgium for ceremonies to mark the centenary of the end of the war in 2018.

 

Did you know?

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has announced federal government support for the creation of a Canadian Remembrance Trail in Belgium by the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917.

The trail will focus on the sacrifices made by Canadians in Europe during the First World War.

The funding, $160,000 over three years, will come from Veterans Affairs Canada’s Community Engagement. Fantino made the announcement on Aug. 5 in Zonnelbeke, Belgium.

Organizations: Veterans Affairs Canada, Royal Canadian Navy, Prescott House Museum Memorial Museum Passchendaele

Geographic location: Belgium, Europe, Mons Saskatchewan Vimy Ridge Cambridge Zonnelbeke

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