Prime minister’s tribute to Hartlepool man who was last British soldier to die in First World War

Prime Minister Theresa May at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, laying a wreath at the grave of George Ellison, the last British soldier to be killed before Armistice in 1918.
Prime Minister Theresa May at the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, laying a wreath at the grave of George Ellison, the last British soldier to be killed before Armistice in 1918.

Prime Minister Theresa May has laid a wreath on the grave of the Hartlepool barman who was the last British soldier to die in the First World War.

Private George Edwin Ellison was shot dead just 90 minutes before the Armistice on the outskirts of the Belgian city of Mons when he should have been preparing to return home to his wife and young family after four years of fighting.

Newspaper reports of George Edwin Ellison's death

Newspaper reports of George Edwin Ellison's death

He was patrolling in woods when he was shot and killed at 9.30am on 11 November 1918- just 90 minutes before peace was declared.

A century on, the people of Mons joined three generations of his family in remembering Private Ellison and Canadian George Lawrence Price - the last Commonwealth soldier to die - at the tree-covered cemetery of Saint Symphorien where they both lie.

By an extraordinary coincidence, Private Ellison is buried just a few yards from Londoner John Henry Parr, who was the first British soldier to die in one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history.

Their deaths were separated by the loss of 750,000 British soldiers.

It’s lovely to see so many people here and very special for three generations of our family to be here.

Marie Ellison

Among those gathered as a bugler played the Last Post were two of Private Ellison’s great-grandchildren, Oliver and Nicola, and his great-great-granddaughter, Ayda, aged just 20 weeks.

“It’s lovely to see so many people here and very special for three generations of our family to be here,” said his granddaughter, Marie Ellison, who was at the service with her sister Catherine and five other members of the family.

“It’s an emotional day. We’ve been to Mons a few times over the years. It feels like a second home. Now it’s time to pass the baton on to the younger ones now.”

An autumn breeze snapped at the lance pennants of six soldiers from the Queen’s Royal Lancers, the descendant regiment of George Ellison’s 5th Royal Irish Lancers, and a raindrops began to fall on the Portland stone gravestones as a lone Canadian piper played a lament.

“I’m just really proud to be here and represent the regiment. George Ellison was one of our own,” said Connor Bilsland, 20, the youngest of the troop who has been in the Army just eight months. “Many of the soldiers buried here were as young as me - some of them even younger.”

The 45-minute ceremony came to a close after the Canadian, German, British and Belgian anthems were played by a military band.

An old Belgian soldier saluted and loudly sang every line of his nation’s anthem.