As a humble plumber's apprentice from Somerset, Harry Patch can hardly have imagined that tomorrow – a century later - royalty would be among the thousands to gather for his funeral. Nor could he have conceived that an acclaimed rock band would be among those to pay tribute to him.
Yesterday Radiohead's front man Thom Yorke announced that the band was releasing a tribute song to the man dubbed The Last Tommy, the final survivor of the war that was supposed to end all wars, who died 12 days ago aged 111.
Mr Patch, whose funeral will be at Wells Cathedral today, served in the trenches as a private from June to September 1917 and fought in the bloody battle of Passchendaele which lasted four months leaving more than 800,000 allied and German troops dead or wounded. His war ended on 22 September when he was seriously injured by a German shell, which killed three of his closest friends.
The haunting track was inspired, Mr Yorke explained, by a moving interview the veteran gave in 2005 in which he spoke of the waste and futility of war and why it had taken him more than eighty years to speak of his experiences to anyone – to describe the "disastrous battle" of Passchendaele.
In a quiet, halting voice Mr Patch told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If two government's cannot agree, give them a rifle each and let them fight it out. Don't waste 20,000 men. It isn't worth it."
Describing how he had recently met a German veteran, he continued: "Eighty-seven years ago we were foes. We would have shot each other. We shook hands and we spent an enjoyable day together. We were friends and not enemies and if you could only make the present generation understand that you would be going some way to getting the peace."
The lyrics of the Radiohead song - Harry Patch (In Memory Of) – reflects much of what the old soldier said that day with all profits from downloads going to the Royal British Legion.
I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I've seen devils coming up from the ground
I've seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn
"I had heard a very emotional interview with him a few years ago on the Today programme on Radio 4," explained Mr Yorke. "The way he talked about war had a profound effect on me.
"It became the inspiration for a song that we happened to record a few weeks before his death."
He added: "It would be very easy for our generation to forget the true horror of war, without the likes of Harry to remind us. I hope we do not forget. As Harry himself said 'Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims'."
Thousands are expected to line the streets of the Somerset city today with the Duchess of Cornwall among the mourners to pack the cathedral.
It will be a grand funeral for a modest and dignified man, who never sought the limelight but when it was thrust upon him, as he became one of the oldest survivors of the First World War, did his best to highlight the horrors of conflict to a younger generation.Reuse content