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.

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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.

The old lie: The shame of Trebuchon date of death was hidden by this headstone in Vrigne-Meuse cemetery, France. Photo / AP, Virginia Mayo
The old lie: The shame of Trebuchon date of death was hidden by this headstone in Vrigne-Meuse cemetery, France. Photo / AP, Virginia Mayo

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.

Final Commonwealth casualy: The grave of Pvt. George Lawrence Price, center, at the St. Symphorien Cemetery. Photo / Virginia Mayo, AP
Final Commonwealth casualy: The grave of Pvt. George Lawrence Price, center, at the St. Symphorien Cemetery. Photo / Virginia Mayo, AP

For the French, who lost up to 1.4 million troops, it was perhaps too poignant — or too shameful — to denote that Trebuchon had been killed on the very last morning, just as victory finally prevailed.

"Indeed, on the tombs it said 'Nov. 10, 1918,' to somewhat ease the mourning of families," said French military historian Nicolas Czubak.

There were many reasons why men kept falling until the call of the bugler at 11 a.m.: fear that the enemy would not abide by the armistice, a sheer hatred after four years of unprecedented slaughter, the ambition of commanders craving a last victory, bad communications, the inane joy of killing.

As the hours ticked down, villages were taken, attacks were thwarted with heavy losses and rivers were crossed under enemy fire. Questions remain whether the gains were worth all the human losses.

The 11th hour: The train which carried signatories to the Armistice agreement. Photo / AP
The 11th hour: The train which carried signatories to the Armistice agreement. Photo / AP

Historian Joseph Persico estimated the total dead, wounded and missing on all sides on the final day was 10,900.

U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing, who had been bent on continuing the fighting, even had to explain to Congress the high number of last-day losses.

Other nations also were not spared such casualties.

With two minutes to go, 25-year-old Canadian Pvt. George Lawrence Price was slain by a German sniper.

About 250 kilometers (150 miles) away in France, a 23-year-old American, Henry Gunther, was killed by German machine-gun fire one minute before the armistice.

Trebuchon, 40, also was shot minutes before the cease-fire. He was running to tell his comrades where and when they would have a meal after the armistice.

All three are considered their nations' last men to fall in active combat.

An iron gate leads to a World War I German cemetery in Ville-devant-Chaumont, France, contains 1766 graves. Photo / Virginia Mayo, AP
An iron gate leads to a World War I German cemetery in Ville-devant-Chaumont, France, contains 1766 graves. Photo / Virginia Mayo, AP

"He is not forgotten," Rousman said of Price. "It's a soldier whose tomb is often draped in flowers."

While Price, was the last Commonwealth soldier killed in action, the eighteen New Zealanders were among those who died on the final day of conflict.

Listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Comission, the roll of war dead aslo includes the names of those who subsequently died of their wounds following the conflict.

1362 members of the New Zealand servicemen are listed as having died following the Armistice on November 11. The final of these attributed to the First World War was George G Small of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, who died on the thirieth of August 1921 - almost three years after the ceasefire.

The old Lie

Trebuchon's grave stands out because of the date, underscoring the random fortunes of war.

He was a shepherd from France's Massif Central and could have avoided the war as a family breadwinner at age 36.

"But he was part of this great patriotic momentum," said Jean-Christophe Chanot, the mayor of Vrigne-Meuse, where he died.

Trebuchon knew misery as part of France's most brutal battles — Marne, Somme, Verdun. He survived right up to his last order — to tell soldiers where to gather after the armistice.

A lie: The photo of Augustin Trebuchon hangs on a wall outside a cemetery in Vrigne-Meuse, France. Photo / Virginia Mayo, AP
A lie: The photo of Augustin Trebuchon hangs on a wall outside a cemetery in Vrigne-Meuse, France. Photo / Virginia Mayo, AP

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.