It is well documented that George Lawrence Price, who was killed by a sniper two minutes before the Armistice on November 11, 1918, was the last Canadian soldier to die in combat during the First World War. But who was the first?
It turns out, the answer is a bit complicated. On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. As a dominion of the British Empire, Canada automatically entered the war. Members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force only arrived at the battlefields of France and Belgium in early 1915; however, some Canadians who were overseas when war broke out joined British forces and saw active service more quickly. British units were fighting in Belgium and France as early as August 1914, with intense combat at Mons, the Marne and Ypres, resulting in 500,000 casualties by October 1914.
Canada’s Books of Remembrance, along with the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, contain the names of more than 118,000 Canadians who fought and died in wars since Confederation. While primarily commemorating soldiers killed within Canadian units, the Books of Remembrance also commemorate those killed serving with British regiments. They include the names of Canadians who died in service of other causes—disease, illness, accident, or injury—as well as those killed in action and as the direct result of injuries received in or related to combat.
Death in service, but not in combat
Private Harry B. Little of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry enlisted on August 10, 1914, at the age of 26. He died four days later from heart failure while on a troop train in Alberta. Little was buried in Czar Cemetery, Alberta.
Death in battle, but not for Canada
Corporal Charles Raymond served with the British infantry, 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Raymond was born in Windsor, Ontario, and was killed in combat on September 14, 1914, at the age of 32. He is buried in La Ferté-sous-Jouarre Memorial cemetery, Seine-et-Marne, France.
Death in battle and for country
Finally, the first Canadians to die in combat while serving with a Canadian unit during the First World War were Malcolm Cann, John Hatheway, William Palmer, and Arthur Silver, on the Pacific Ocean, approximately 80 kilometres off the coast of Chile in the Battle of Coronel. They were in the first class of the newly created Royal Naval College of Canada. Under the command of British Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock of the Royal Navy’s North American and West Indies station, Cann, Hatheway, Palmer, and Silver were taken as midshipmen on the HMS Good Hope, part of a squadron of ships that set out to defend British commerce from German naval aggression in the eastern Pacific. They engaged a German squadron commanded by Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee on November 1, 1914, off the coast of Chile. In what would be the worst British naval defeat in a century, more than 1,600 Allied sailors were killed in the battle, including the four Canadian midshipmen, whose ship was sunk with all hands on board.