Saturday, 25 July 2009

At road’s end: Harry Patch (1898-2009), last WWI veteran in Britain

Within a week both the last surviving WWI veterans in Britain have died. Henry Allingham passed away at 113 last Saturday, while Harry Patch died in his sleep at 9 a.m. today in Fletcher House nursing home in Wells, Somerset, aged 111.
Henry “Harry” Patch was born on 17 June 1898 and joined the British Army in 1916. He fought in the trenches from June to September 1917, when he returned to Britain after having been wounded. He was the last soldier to have fought in the trenches of the Great War, to have been wounded in action and to have taken part in the Battle of Passchendale (Ypres). He outlived two wives, a third partner and both his children.
At the 90th anniversary of the ceasefire last November, three surviving veterans took part in the ceremony at the Cenotaph. Now they are all gone, with Bill Stone the first to die, in January this year.
Since Allingham’s death a week ago, Patch was the last WWI veteran in Britain. There is however a British veteran living in Australia, as well as a Canadian veteran living in the USA and an American veteran living in the USA. The last Australian veteran died in June, while the last French, Italian, German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish, Polish and Ukrainian veterans died last year.
Approximately 65 million soldiers fought in WWI, with nearly 10 million being killed in this rather unnecessary war. In reaction to the death of Harry Patch today, the British Queen, Elizabeth II, said: “We will never forget the bravery and enormous sacrifice of his generation, which will continue to serve as an example to us all”.
“I know that the whole nation will unite today to honour the memory, and to take pride in the generation that fought the Great War. The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten”, said Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“War is organised murder and nothing else”, Harry Patch himself would say. In his memoir The Last Fighting Tommy, published when he was 109, Patch wrote “that politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder”.

The Guardian’s obituary:

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