Leading article: The Last Post

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The Independent Online

He was, they kept telling us, an ordinary man, a plumber from Somerset who tended his vegetables and fed chickens. But at Harry Patch's funeral yesterday huge crowds lined the streets, many of them teenagers – which is what Harry was when he went to war in the trenches in 1916.

Royalty attended; soldiers from France, Belgium and Germany attended his coffin. They were not there merely because Harry was the last survivor of the so-called war to end all wars but because, as the other veterans of it passed away, he grew increasingly conscious of his duty to speak out about the horrors he had witnessed.

He did so at some cost. Harry Patch knew that his mission to stress the importance of peace and reconciliation would mean that old memories would come flooding back, and they did. The demons of that terrible time returned to torment him, but in spite of that he did his duty to the end. An ordinary man – but an extraordinary one too.