Sunday, November 10, 2019

Veterans Day - A Look Back

Last year, Rick and I spent a lovely October in England and our last stop was Midford, a village near Bath, where we rented the home of a friend. It was one of the hightlights of the trip. On our last day, a gorgeous, crisp day, we took a walk and were reminded of the sacrifices of those who fought in World War I (and of course, all wars since). England's male population took a terrible hit in the WWI, which led to a generation with a significant number of "spinsters" and new roles for women, who had left the traditional working roles of service and teaching for jobs previously held by men. 


It was a brutal war and many of those who returned had witnessed horrendous battles, attacks by mustard gas and experienced what we would now call PTSD, along with terrible physical injuries. The War to End All Wars only was a prelude to yet another that would decimate Europe.

The post below is slightly edited from what appeared last year on Veterans Day. 

~~~~

As we look at a week that includes Remembrance Day in England and Veteran's Day in the United States, It's fitting that we visit Monkton Combe, near Bath in the U.K. as we honor veterans of the Great War and all others with a visit to Harry Patch's grave.


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.

Harry Patch 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 license 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?"
Photo: Wikipedia

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 about Harry Patch was pulled from Wikipedia and other websites.)


I know I'll be thinking of my dad and his WWII service today.

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42 comments:

Misadventures of Widowhood said...

Thanks for posting this. I remember those poppy wreaths from last year. I hadn't seen them before or since and I love them.

William Kendall said...

Harry Patch was an extraordinary man.

My name is Erika. said...

This is a lovely tribute for this holiday Jeanie. It is nice you were able to do some not strictly tourist things on your trip, and still get to share them with us too. Happy new week. Hugs-Erika

Sandi said...

"...To me, it's a license 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?"

Men like this should be the ones making decisions about when to fight.

Evi Erlinda said...

Hi Jeanie, this is a marvelous tribute for Veteran Day!
Remembering all of them who served and sacrificed their life for our freedom.
Tons of salutes

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

This was a great repost, Jeanie. Most impressive, since I'm also doing several posts this year that deal with Veterans (no apostrophe) Day and Remembrance/Armistice Day. Harry Patch was certainly extraordinary, wasn't he. To be able to visit the cemetery and experience this was just fabulous. I know it must have moved you as much as (or probably more than) it has me.

Valerie-Jael said...

It is good to remember all who served. Harry Patch sounds like a great man. Lovely photos from your visit, too. Hugs, Valerie

Iris Flavia said...

War is so dumb.
Ingo´s Great-Grandfather´d "fought" in both wars and was broken.
He could not eat bread anymore, it reminded him too much of days he had but one slice for a whole day whilst being active.
How can you run around, be in fear, shoot and have but one slice of bread?
At nights he woke up in terror.

You honor the people who fought for freedom and what do they do here? On 11.11. 11:00 a.m. carnival starts in Cologne and CO!
How thoughtless is this!

Wow. Having fought and living so long, is that a joy?
But you are right, incredible to see the world go from electricity to internet!
I´ll keep the book in mind.
I agree, it was just slaughter.
Why don´t we learn about this at school, I wonder???
All we learned (mainly) was Hitl#er, dates, dates, dates.

I at least still have a bag of (now empty) poppy seeds right here at my PC. Legacy to the ANZACS 2015, a pressie from an Australian friend.
Many wore poppies on their chest when we were there.

My family was not involved in WWII (no idea about the other, they never ever spoke of it unless you had a pointy question).
One of my cousins back then was one of the first to say no to service, he was in the news. Also my Brother decided to work in a hospital instead of being a soldier.
I am luckily that old I did no service at all, women back then didn´t have to.

Your Dad, wow, bet your Mum had to have an eye on him cause many other women did, too! :-)

Polly said...

Oh Jeanie, this is such a moving tribute, I have tears in my eyes. Harry Patch was a remarkable man who told the truth about war. Your father was a fine looking man. x

Sami said...

Loved this post Jeanie. What a great man Harry Patch was and I totally agree with what he said.
To all those brave men and women who fought for our freedoms!

eileeninmd said...

Hello,

Lovely post and tribute for Veterans Day. I wish for peace in the world.
Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy new week!

Pam said...

What great history.Thanking all vets today.

Sandra at Maison De Jardin said...

Jeanie, this is a beautiful tribute. I completely agree with Sandi, "Men like this should be the ones making decisions about when to fight." Harry Patch must have been a special soul.

thepaintedapron.com said...

This is quite an incredible post Jeanie. I so enjoyed learning about Harry Patch, his long and interesting life and his views about war. It is horrendous what those men went through and the sacrifices made everywhere. Such devastating times and so important to remember. I pray that those that don't appreciate the importance of our military might have their minds changed by something they hear or see today as we celebrate Veteran's Day
Jenna

Mae Travels said...

Very moving post! I feel as if I should have something to say about this day, but I'm mute.

best... mae

Rita C at Panoply said...

Nice history, Jeanie, and neat that you got to visit this site. I honor my Dad today too, who also fought in WWII.

laurie said...

Such a wonderful tribute,

Linda said...

I remember this story. But with your trusty pen (or keyboard) it takes on new life. Thanks Jeanie♥

Hena Tayeb said...

Thanks for sharing.. such a beautiful tribute. We were at a football game over the weekend and they dedicated the game to Veteran's, it was so special.

Red Rose Alley said...

What a nice visit to the cemetery, Jeanie. I didn't know that your Dad was in the service. Mine was also, and he was in the Marines. You have so many stories that your father shared with you. And I know you will be thinking of him on this Veteran's Day.

~Sheri

bobbie said...

A truly beautiful post, Jeanie! Thank you so much for sharing it ~
A military brat & wife ~ I've hugged the one, and thought deeply about the other all day.
Hugs ~

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

This was a very timely and interesting post, Jeanie. Thanks to Harry Patch and your dad, and all the other veterans who served. Also, thanks to all those brave soldiers, men and women, who did not return home safely tob their loved ones. They are not forgotten.

Prims By The Water said...

God bless our Veterans. They do not get the recognition they should get. Janice

BeachGypsy said...

Great post for today and I'd never heard of this man!!--so now I'm off to go read about him!! I love the church picture.....it looks like a couple of our Charleston churches, very similar.

Little Wandering Wren said...

Hard to believe your trip was a year ago isn't it? This post was brilliant then and well worthy of remembering. Very poignant, Lest we forget.
Wren x

Pam Richardson said...

What an interesting read and thank you Jeanie for sharing. My Dad is a veteran of the Korean War and is a Purple Heart recipient. In his latter years, he has told us his story! He is my hero!

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I also love this reflection: "...To me, it's a license 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?"

What is the sense? I know some wars are necessary but so many of them seem avoidable. So much is lost. We watched the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary recently. That war was so senseless and so many lives were lost on both sides and for what? We didn't "win." No one really won. And in the process, our government lied to us about what was happening and whether we could win the war. It's just sickening. My dad ended up joining the Navy since that was a safer option than having to be on the battle fields. He felt it was a waste of 4 years of his life. He enlisted right around when my parents got married and missed the first 6 months of their first child's life since he was out to sea. And then they struggled to get pregnant again. They did - 4 more times!! - but I am sure he wondered if he'd ever get to experience those first months of a child's life.

Anca said...

I had no idea about him. It was emotional to read about his story. WWI was terrible. I've volunteered at a project last year, on the soldiers who had shell shock, it was so sad to see their stories and how much they suffered.
I will save your post, so I know where to look for his grave if I get the chance to visit the area again.

Debbie-Dabble Blog and A Debbie-Dabble Christmas said...

Jeanie,
What an interesting post and perfect for Veteran's Day!!I remember the Veteran's selling poppies outside our church on the weekend before Veteran's Day... You don't really see that anymore here in this area...
Thanks so much for all you visits!!
Hugs,
Deb

Sandra Cox said...

Bless each and every one.
I am so heartsick over what humans do to one another.

CHERI said...

What a special post! We just can't be reminded enough of the great losses so that we can have our freedom. It makes me so sad these days to see so much disrespect and misuse of our freedoms. I thank you family members, my family members. and all who have served and are serving. And I thank their families as well for the sacrifices that they have made. God bless America and God bless our Veterans and service men and women.

Alexandria said...

Thank you for sharing this moving post!

junemac2 said...

Hi Jeanie, thank you for being one of the first friends to welcome us back. I too am doing less on Facebook. This is a wonderful reminder of the sacrifices made in war. As you know, i am from England and recently have been touched once more by remembrance day services. Yesterday we also watched this. It was so moving and real and shows what the young soldiers really did endure at war. It turns to colour and is graphic (warning ) but if you want to see it, here is the link on Youtube. https://youtu.be/1bKCnL5jIJo

junemac2 said...

I have no idea if my last comment was posted. If not let me know Jeanie and i will re write it again. x

Preppy Empty Nester said...

Gorgeous photos and a lovely sentiment, dear Jeanie. Have a wonderful week!

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

A lovely remembrance. None of us could ever forget Harry Patch. I have his book and remember him from so many documentaries. I think visiting his grave would be a little unsettling, like going to see where an old friend has been laid to rest.

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Hmm - thought I'd left a comment, but...

Susan Kane said...

What a brave and articulate man. He was honored rightly so.

The photo of your photo is touching. As a WW2 veteran, he saw too much, heard too much. Very brave.

Lowcarb team member said...

This is a great post Jeanie.
A lovely Remembrance.

All the best Jan

Marilyn Miller said...

What a lovely, lovely remembrance for Harry Patch and all the veterans on Veterans Day.

Karen said...

We will remember them.

Iris Flavia said...

Jeanie, P.S.: I thank you for your kind words on my "bad day post"! - my server suddenly does not let me know about comments, or only partially and much later.
I answered just now, just in case you want to understand why I want to stick to IT...
Thank you, dear friend.

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