Who was Harry Patch, you might ask. I did. And the answer is simple -- Henry John Patch was briefly the oldest man in Europe, but more fitting for this day, he was the last surviving combat soldier of World War I in any country. He fought on the Western Front and when he died, he was a month short of being 112 years old. He died on July 25, 2009.
Rick and I encountered his grave during a walk on our last day in the UK, when we stayed a Morgan's Forge. "Turn left and soon you will come to the grave of Harry Patch," said my friend Mark, from whom we rented the house during our visit. So, on a cool, crisp, sunny (mostly) day, Rick and I ventured toward Monkton Combe. Harry's grave was the only one in the small and interesting cemetery that had been remembered, with two bright wreaths of poppies. It was a fitting remembrance.
Imagine what this son of a stonemason saw in his lifetime. Born close to the turn of a century -- the last century -- he saw the advent of electricity, the automobile, passenger air travel, the internet, everyday appliances. And he saw war.
He was drafted into the British Army two years into World War I and had a bumpy time in his early years, becoming demoted after a fist fight with a fellow soldier. He arrived in France in 1917 and fought at the Battle of Passchendaele, where he was injured and returned to England. He wrote:
When the war ended, I don't know if I was more relieved that we'd won or that I didn't have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle—thousands and thousands of young lives were lost... We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?"
Harry Patch received eight medals for his service and after decades of not speaking about the war later shared his story in British documentaries and the series World War I in Colour, which is seen periodically in the U.S. on the AHC channel. He became an advocate for preserving sacred battlefield land in France and recognized that life on both sides was lost and should be honored. During the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, he described war as the "calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings" and said that "war isn't worth one life. Two years before his death, he wrote his autobiography, The Last Fighting Tommy.
Harry Patch's funeral was held at Wells Cathedral and he was buried at Monkton Combe, the small cemetery adjacent to St. Michael's Church.
It was called "The War to End All Wars." But we all know that didn't happen. It was, in fact, the effects of World War I on Germany the bred discontent and the rise of Adolf Hitler and the second World War. Harry Patch didn't serve there and no doubt he had deep feelings about the war from his personal experiences. In his later years he was an advocate of peace and involved with the British Poppy Appeal and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
But perhaps his greatest legacy is that he told his story -- and like all stories of war, we must never forget its impact on those who served, those who were left behind and those who live free because of the actions of brave soldiers, decades, even centuries ago.
Here's to our grandfathers and great grandfathers who served in this war. And to those who have served in others since. (Much info for this post pulled from Wikipedia and other websites. We'll go back to Paris next post!)
This is the most wonderful story. I must go there some day. Thanks for sharing it Jeanie.
A beautiful tribute to Harry Patch and all the other soldiers of war. I was moved by his words " Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?" Those who make decisions to send young men (and women) into battle seldom serve in battle themselves it seems. May we never forget the sacrifices made by these dear soldiers.
Thanks for sharing and a fitting tribute to those who died in that awful war. Hugs, Valerie
Harry Patch had the right outlook on war. We just never learn. What an amazing man. I love that you shared his moving story with us on this very important date in history.
How interesting! Thank you for introducing Harry Patch to us.
My father never talked about WWII. License to go out and murder. How sad.
And to think that Trump couldn’t handle a little rain to pay his respects in France. Great prez you elected down there. Today is also called Remembrance Day in Canada, and I believe throughout most former British colonies and possessions.
Beautiful, but so sad...
Let me add something about the futility of war (we never will learn of course). Years ago we lived near a family with whom we became quite close; the father was a British immigrant to Canada, the mother a German immigrant. We were invited to dinner when the parents of both of them were visiting to spend time with their five gorgeous grandchildren. Both grandfathers had served in the Second World War, one on the German side and one on the British side, in fact at one point in the same battle as they discovered. They came to the obvious conclusion that had they met back then they would have tried to kill each other, they were now bound in kinship by the same grandchildren. The blood of German and British antagonists flowed through five Canadian children. Ah, that’s all well and good, but let’s rearm and do it all again!
That was very interesting, Jeanie, and his personal story is incredible. To even survive that battle was miraculous. -Jenn
And flaming right he was, too. There are no winners from war but arms manufacturers. I have never met a real veteran that believed in war.
Loved this post. I too have been working on a VE Day post as we attended the 100 years of the armistice commemmoration, in our town today and laid flowers from our garden for the fallen.
I hadn't heard about Harry Patch before and loved hearing this story Jeanie.
What a wonderful tribute to a World War I veteran.
Beautiful tribute post!
Loved this Jeanie . . .
And how wonderful for you to visit the Harry Patch gravesite . . .
Quite a story . . . also liked the comment by David Gascoigne . . .
Difficult to imagine living 112 years . . .
And even more difficult to imagine thousands, and thousands who have died, been killed, while serving.
Yes indeed . . . We must give Honor and Thankyou to our Veterans . . .
I am hopefully going to be able to share your post on My FB.
Nice tribute...we shall never forget those who lost their lives fighting against evil.
A great recap of a piece of history I never knew about. Your retelling of it captured me to the end.
What an amazing man. Thanks for sharing this.
I do hope we aren't on the verge of repeating history.
When I was a child my parents took me to Verdun and other places to visit the soldier cemeteries on the old battlefields. It is something I have never forgotten.
It is true old men send young men to die in the name of their country. Beautiful photos and story
That was quite the life, wasn't it? Harry saw the world become was it was, starting with Edwardian society and moving right up to almost our modern time. But close enough to modern time really. From no home phones to cell phones. From no radio to tv and internet. Wow. What a story. Thanks for sharing Jeanie. hugs-Erika
A very fitting post for today.
I'd never heard of Harry Patch, and I'm so glad you shared his story. It always saddens me to think of the hundreds of thousands whose stories never will be known -- and yet the wars were theirs, too. We need to begin -- right now -- ending the warring that's going on among us. It may be a first step toward preventing even more terrible conflicts, like those Harry experienced.
Jeanie, what a fitting post on Veteran’s Day. Thank you for sharing Harry Patch’s story, may we never forget the sacrifice. My dad is a veteran of the Korean War and is my hero.
What an interesting story about Harry Patch.
So many stories are told about the first World War Jeanie and really there are very few that had a happy ending.
I know of one and that was my darling father.
He was a very young man and left New Zealand on a troop ship bound for the UK and then France. Two of his brothers served alongside and following the war they suffered with depression.
My father had a terrible wound in his leg from shrapnel and was sent back to a hospital in England. Once he recovered he was sent back to France to join his regiment.
After the war he married and had two boys, sadly his wife died of cancer.
Years later he remarried and his second wife died in the horrific Napier earthquake.
My mother was his third wife and I was born when he was 48 - my mother was 31!
He was a family man through and through and didn't dwell on his years in France - he was lucky and got on with his life.
Before the war he graduated from university in law, so on his return home, he set up a law practice and lived life to the full.
He never missed an Anzac Day or Armistice Day service- he was a faithful ex-soldier.
I find it very, very sad the nation I was born into (none of my family was involved in the war) does not participate.
You turn on the TV and likely get Hit#er, a docu showing you how bad "you" were.
But then. Many were young men, no mind of their own or worse: you do not join, your family will suffer.
War is always just plain stupid.
Wow! 112 years. I do very much hope he could enjoy this!
Hubby´s Great-Grandfather (?) was there, too, he suffered a lot. My Grandma... war-people do not eat fresh, they keep, keep, keep. Even my Mum was like that still. And I think I am, too, a bit.
Yes. Just imagine! All the new inventions and then dumb war- what a "mix"! And such wise words.
This was wonderful, Jeanie! What an amazing man... How sad is Remembrance Day/Veterans Day, but how beautiful to remember those who gave so much for freedom... I didn't know about Harry Patch either. My grandfather served in WW2, I think he was actually at Ardennes... he was never the same again. And how can anyone be after serving. What a terrible waste is war. And wars are still raging everywhere... It breaks my heart... :( ((HUGS))
What an amazing man, and I must read his autobiography. A very fitting post for Armistice Day.
Hello, wonderful tribute and post for Veterans Day. Harry Patch lived a long life. My father and uncles served and fought in WW II. I am thankful for all the heroes who serve and risk their lives. Wonderful photos. Happy Monday, enjoy your day! Have a great new week!
Great post....yes, remembering! We also need to keep them in mind all yr round. Thanks for your post.
Thank you Jeanie for this thoughtful and meaningful post...A lovely tribute and portrait...
What a brave and intelligent man.
A man well worth paying tribute to.
That war- a whole generation dead, damaged, or haunted by what they saw, too many years of using outdated tactics against new technology until the end when the officers finally started to get a clue. And the leaders utterly failed to take the chance to make it right. They could have prevented the Second World War, but only set the stage for it.
Thank you for this story, Jeanie! I liked Harry's thinking on war and that he is being remembered.
Thank you for tell his story. I can’t disagree with his sentiments.
War "What is the sense in that indeed?' what a great post Jeanie, I love reading all about Hary Patch, made all the more special as you were all but on my patch back in the UK, you had me gripped at the first churchyard photo.
I had never heard of this person so thank you for sharing his story and his wise insights on war. I agree that there is no sense in war. It's a shame that so many lives have been lost in the pursuit of "peace."
Thanks for sharing this. I didn't know who Harry Patch was before. Now I want to look for biography. He seems like a very interesting person.
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