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The Last Tommy – RIP July 25, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in history.
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A couple of years ago, I wrote about Harry Patch, then aged 109 and the last survivor of the Battle of Passchendaele.  He’d hidden his story inside himself for eighty years, never letting his experiences out, even to his wife. Finally, in 1998, at the age of 100, he agreed to be interviewed for the  BBC documentary “Veterans”.  Later, he co-operated with the historian Richard van Emden in the book “The Last Fighting Tommy”, a memoir of his experiences as an eighteen-year-old soldier in the squalor and degradation of the trenches of the Western Front.  In 2007, he returned to Passchendaele on the 90th anniversary of the battle, laying wreaths for both the Allied and German casualties.

Harry Patch died yesterday, aged 111.

The BBC obituary is here.

There is now no-one left who remembers the Battle of Passchendaele.  It’s hard to do better than to, once again, quote his words.

It wasn’t worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands. T’isn’t worth it …

– Harry Patch


The Last Tommy July 31, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in history.
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Ninety years ago this month, the Battle of Passchendaele, the most horrific sustained period of military carnage in modern times, started.  Passchendaele lasted for three months.  By the time Canadian troops finally captured the town of Passchendaele, in November 1917, the combatants had sustained over 750,000 casualties.

Of the millions of soldiers who passed through the unimaginable horror of the World War I trenches, only one now remains alive – Harry Patch.

Harry Patch was conscripted as an eighteen-year-old boy in 1916, and lived through the Battle of Passchendaele.  He’s now 109 years old.  In recent years, he has talked a little about his experiences.  Patch’s memories of war, about which he remained silent for eighty years, even to his wife, have been recorded by the BBC here.  They make harrowing reading.  It’s hard to comprehend the utter degradation of trench warfare, of duckboards over mud so deep it could drown a horse, of the desperation of seeing your friends killed in front of you.

Harry Patch recently revisited the battle site with the historian Richard van Emden, marking the 90th anniversary of the start of the battle.  The BBC has a video of the visit, which culminates with him laying a wreath at the German memorial to the war dead.  Van Emden has also published a book called The Last Fighting Tommy, recording Harry Patch’s life.

Listen to the simple wisdom of Harry Patch, the last Tommy.

It wasn’t worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands. T’isn’t worth it …

– Harry Patch