John Babcock, Canada’s last-known World War I veteran, died last week, closing the book on a costly and memorable period in the country’s history.
Babcock signed up for the military as a teenage volunteer, but ended up digging ditches in Canada initially.
Frustrated, Babcock later lied to military staff while volunteering in Halifax and told them he was 18, when in fact he was two years younger, according to CTV News.
“When they asked me how old I was, I said 18. Well, when we got to England you had to be 19 to go to France,” recalled Babcock in an interview with The Canadian Press in 2007.
“I was waiting to be 19 and my service record came through, and they found out I was 16, so they put me in the young soldiers’ battalion.”
Babcock, one of 1,300 underage soldiers, endured hours of drill training as he waited for his chance to prove himself in battle.
By the time the war ended in 1918, however, Babcock had yet to serve.
He may have been disappointed at the time, but eight decades later, hindsight had given Babcock a different perspective, CTV News reported.
“I might have got killed,” he said. “If the war had lasted another year I would have fought.”
The conflict proved a pivotal point in Canadian history. When war broke out in the summer of 1914, all Dominions of the British Empire, including Canada, were called upon by Great Britain to fight on her behalf.
Canada’s sacrifices and contributions to the war changed its history and enabled it to become more independent, but it also opened a rift between the French- and English-speaking populations.
For the first time in its history, Canadian forces fought as a distinct unit under a Canadian-born commander. Battles such as Vimy Ridge, Second Battle of Passchendaele and the Battle of the Somme are still remembered today by many as part of Canada’s founding myth.
Out of the approximately 600,000 Canadians who served in the war, some 67,000 died.
Among those was George Lawrence Price, who was killed two minutes before the armistice took effect at 11 am. on Nov. 11, 1918. He is traditionally recognized as being the last of more than 15 million soldiers killed on the Great War’s battlefields.