France: Unearthing the final casualty of the First World War

Augustin Trebuchon is buried beneath a lie.

His tiny plot is almost on the front line where the guns finally fell silent at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, after a four-year war that had already killed millions.

A simple white cross says: “Died for France on Nov. 10, 1918.”

Not so.

Like hundreds of others along the Western Front, Trebuchon was killed in combat on the morning of Nov. 11 — after the pre-dawn agreement between the Allies and Germany but before the armistice took effect six hours later.

His death at almost literally the eleventh hour only highlighted the folly of a war that had become ever more incomprehensible to many in nations drawn into the first global conflict.

Before Nov. 11, the war had killed 14 million people, including 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen from 28 countries. Germany came close to a quick, early victory before the war settled into hellish trench fighting. One battle, like the Somme in France, could have up to 1 million casualties. The use of poison gas came to epitomize the ruthlessness of warfare that the world had never seen.






Instead, his body was found with a bullet wound to the head. He was recognized as “the last French soldier killed during the last French attack against the Germans,” Chanot said.

The date on his grave — Nov. 10, 1918 — remains controversial, even if it was meant to soothe a family’s sorrow.

“It was a lie, without a question,” said Czubak, the French historian.

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