A captain when he died, George Dundas's gravemarker in Daours, France, reads:
UNIVERSITY STUDENT, TORONTO
MY BEST BOY
At 10:59 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918, Henry Gunther, an American private, launched a suicidal one-man bayonet attack on a German machine-gun nest.
The astonished Germans, who knew the Armistice was to take effect seconds later, had no choice but to open fire. A Maxim chattered, and Gunther became the final soldier to die in combat in the First World War.
Then the last gun on the Western Front fell silent. It was over. After more than four bloody years, it was finally over.
* * *
No one knows for sure how many combatants were killed during history's first industrialized war. Most put the figure at around ten million on all sides.
It's staggering -- a whole generation lost. But really, Stalin was right: a million dead, even ten million dead, is a statistic.
To get to the heart of the matter, you have to reduce that obscene number to something manageable.
Let's take one man.
George Dundas was born near a tiny fishing village on the North Shore of Lake Erie on Oct. 27, 1890, the son of William James and Jemima Dundas. He attended elementary school in the village, later graduating from Albert College, Belleville, and Victoria College, University of Toronto.
Fatefully, he also took the Canadian Officer Training Course and served in the militia.
On Feb. 10, 1915, Lieut. George Dundas enlisted in the privately raised Eaton Machine-gun Battery in Toronto. He was later commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery in England and promoted to captain.
In March 1916, he joined the 161st Brigade of the British Expeditionary Force in France, and was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry during the horrific fighting on the Somme.
In August 1917, he was gassed and hospitalized in England, but on April 10, 1918, he went back to war. He was slightly wounded two days later, and at some point over the next few months, was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross, again for gallantry in the face of the enemy.
Capt. George Dundas made the last entry in his diary on Aug. 21, 1918, early in the Canadian-Australian led advance from Amiens to Mons that brought the war to a halt.
He was probably wounded the next day and died on Sept. 2 at age 27. He is buried in a cemetery in Daours, a village in the Department of the Somme, far from home, far from a life that might have been, far from the promise of a future.
And that's finally the truth and the tragedy of those statistics: It's forever personal. Family, friends, lovers, back home in world capitals like Berlin, Paris, London, Washington, Delhi, Moscow -- and in tiny fishing villages -- all heartbroken and grieving the loss of one man.
Multiplied ten million times.
"Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
Although you died back in Nineteen-Sixteen,
To that loyal heart are you always nineteen?..."
-- Green Fields of France, Eric Bogle