Harry Patch, Britain's last survivor of the trenches of World War I, was a reluctant soldier who became a powerful eyewitness to the horror of war, and a symbol of a lost generation.
Patch, who died Saturday at 111, was wounded in 1917 in the
Battle of Passchendaele, which he remembered as "mud, mud and more
mud mixed together with blood."
"Anyone who tells you that in the trenches they weren't scared,
he's a damned liar: you were scared all the time," Patch was
quoted as saying in a book, "The Last Fighting Tommy," written
with historian Richard van Emden.
The Fletcher House care home in Wells, southwest England, said
Patch "quietly slipped away" on Saturday morning.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the whole country would mourn
"the passing of a great man."
"The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will
never be forgotten. We say today with still greater force, We Will
Remember Them," Brown said.
Queen Elizabeth II said "we will never forget the bravery and
enormous sacrifice of his generation." Prince Charles said
"nothing could give me greater pride" than paying tribute to
"The Great War is a chapter in our history we must never
forget, so many sacrifices were made, so many young lives lost,"
the prince said.
Britain's Ministry of Defense called Patch the last British
military survivor of the 1914-18 war, although British-born Claude
Choules of Australia, 108, is believed to have served in the Royal
Navy during the conflict.
Patch was one of the last living links to "the war to end all
wars," which killed about 20 million people in years of fighting
between the Allied Powers - including Britain, France and the
United States - and Germany and its allies. The Ministry of Defense
said he was the last soldier of any nationality to have fought in
the brutal trench warfare that has become the enduring image of the
There are no French or German veterans of the war left alive.
The last known U.S. veteran is Frank Buckles of Charles Town, West
Virginia, 108, who drove ambulances in France for the U.S. Army.
Patch did not speak about his war experiences until he was 100.
Once he did, he was adamant that the slaughter he witnessed had not
"I met someone from the German side and we both shared the same
opinion: we fought, we finished and we were friends," he said in
"It wasn't worth it."
Born in southwest England in 1898, Patch was a teenage
apprentice plumber when he was called up for military service in
1916. After training he was sent to the trenches as a
machine-gunner in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.
The five-man Lewis gun team had a pact to try not to kill any
enemy soldiers but to aim at their legs unless it came down to
killing or being killed, he said.
Patch was part of the third battle of Ypres in Belgium. The
offensive began on July 31, 1917, and it rained all but three days
of August. It was not until Nov. 6, 1917, that British and Canadian
forces had progressed five miles (eight kilometers) to capture what
was left of the village of Passchendaele. The cost was 325,000
allied casualties and 260,000 Germans.
Patch's war had ended on Sept. 22, when he was seriously wounded
by shrapnel, which killed three other members of his machine gun
"My reaction was terrible; it was losing a part of my life,"
"I'd taken an absolute liking to the men in the team, you could
say almost love. You could talk to them about anything and
everything. I mean, those boys were with you night and day, you
shared everything with them and you talked about everything."
Ever after, he regarded that date as his Remembrance Day instead
of the national commemoration on Nov. 11.
He and the other survivor agreed that they would never share
details of the incident with the families of their comrades. "I
mean, there was nothing left, nothing left to bury, and I don't
think they would have wanted to know that," he said.
Patch recalled being unmoved by the excitement that swept his
village of Combe Down, near Bath in southwestern England, when war
broke out in 1914.
"I didn't welcome the war at all, and never felt the need to
get myself into khaki and go out there fighting before it was 'all
over by Christmas.' That's what people were saying, that the war
wouldn't last long," he said.
His most vivid memory of the war was of encountering a comrade
whose torso had been ripped open by shrapnel. "Shoot me," Patch
recalled the soldier pleading.
The man died before Patch could draw his revolver.
"I was with him for the last 60 seconds of his life. He gasped
one word - 'Mother.' That one word has run through my brain for 88
years. I will never forget it."
When he was wounded, Patch said he was told that the medics had
run out of anesthetic, but he agreed to go ahead with surgery to
remove shrapnel from his stomach.
"Four people caught hold of me, one each leg, one each arm, and
the doctor got busy," he recalled. "I'd asked him how long he'd
be and he'd said, 'two minutes,' and in those two minutes I could
have damned well killed him."
After the war ended in 1918, Patch returned to work as a
plumber, got married, raised a family and didn't start talking
about his war experiences until the 21st century. He outlived three
wives and both of his sons.
During World War II, Patch volunteered for the fire service and
helped in rescue and firefighting after German bombing raids.
In recent years he and his dwindling band of fellow survivors
became poignant, and much-honored, symbols of the conflict.
At 101, he received the Legion d'Honneur from the French
government. Last year, Poet Laureate Andrew Motion wrote a poem for
him, "The Five Acts of Harry Patch."
Last year he and two fellow veterans - former airman Henry
Allingham and former sailor Bill Stone - attended remembrance
ceremonies in London to mark the 90th anniversary of the war's end
at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The
three frail men in wheelchairs laid wreaths of red poppies at the
base of the stone Cenotaph memorial.
Stone died in January. Allingham, who became the world's oldest
man, died July 18, aged 113.
At a remembrance ceremony in 2007, Patch said he felt "humbled
that I should be representing an entire generation."
"Today is not for me. It is for the countless millions who did
not come home with their lives intact. They are the heroes," he
said. "It is also important we remember those who lost their lives
on both sides."
The Ministry of Defense said Patch's funeral would be held in
Wells Cathedral in the town where he lived. It said the service
would be "a prayer for peace and reconciliation." The date was
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