Obituary: Harry Patch

Final witness to horror of the trenches

Harry Patch, the last British soldier to have fought in the trenches of the First World War, was staunchly anti-war.

Mr Patch was a machine-gunner in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and fought during the Battle of Passchendaele, in Ypres, which claimed the lives of more than 70,000 soldiers.

He served in the trenches as a private from June to September 1917.

Born on 17 June 1898, Mr Patch grew up in Coombe Down, near Bath, and left school at the age of 15 to train as a plumber.

He was 16 when war broke out and reached 18 as conscription was being introduced and after six months training he was sent to the frontline.

He was the number two in the Lewis gun team and his role was to carry and assemble the spare parts for the machine gun and ensure it worked.

The five gunners made a pact not to kill an enemy soldier if they could help it but they would instead aim for the legs.

On 22 September 1917 a shell attack exploded above Mr Patch's head killing three of his comrades.

Mr Patch was hit by shrapnel in the lower abdomen but survived.

During his recovery in Britain, he met his first wife, Ada, in 1918.

They were married for almost 60 years and had two sons, Dennis and Roy, both of whom Harry has outlived.

Too old to fight in the Second World War Mr Patch became a maintenance manager at a US army camp in Somerset and joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in Bath.

After the war he went back to plumbing and retired in 1963.

Following Ada's death in 1976, at 81 Mr Patch married his second wife, Jean, who died five years ago.

His third partner Doris, who lived in the same retirement home, died last year.

It was only on his 100th birthday that Mr Patch first came to the spotlight as one of the last veterans of the First World War, when for the first time reporters and television crews visited his care home in Wells, Somerset.

His autobiography, The Last Fighting Tommy, written with Richard van Emden, was published in 2007.

As well as launching poppy appeals, he became an agony uncle columnist for lads magazine FHM, had his portrait painted by artist and former England wicket keeper, Jack Russell, and had a special edition cider named after him.

In 1999 Mr Patch received the Legion D'Honneur medal awarded by the French government to 350 surviving First World War veterans who fought on the Western Front, dedicating it to his three fallen comrades.

At the age of 105 Mr Patch re-visited the Ypres battle field and in 2004 he returned for a BBC series to meet a German veteran Charles Kuentz.

He also visited the British and German cemeteries, placing a wreath of poppies on one of the German graves.

In February this year Poet Laureate Andrew Motion was commissioned to write a poem in Mr Patch's honour, entitled "The Five Acts of Harry Patch".

In September 2008 he made his last trip to Langemark for the unveiling of a memorial.

Mr Patch believes "war is organised murder" and said: "It was not worth it, it was not worth one let alone all the millions.

"It's important that we remember the war dead on both sides of the line - the Germans suffered the same as we did."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test