- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

LONDON

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. Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. Patch.

“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 Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 conflict.

There are no French or German veterans of the war left alive. The last known U.S. veteran is Frank Buckles of Charles Town, W.Va., 108, who drove ambulances in France for the U.S. Army.

Mr. 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 been justified.

“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 2007.

“It wasn’t worth it.”

Born in southwest England in 1898, Mr. 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.

Story Continues →