Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Farewell to Harry, last veteran of the war to end all wars

Royalty, senior military figures and ordinary men and women united yesterday to say farewell to the last Tommy, Harry Patch.

Peace and reconciliation was the theme of the service for Mr Patch at Wells Cathedral, in Somerset, as representatives from Germany, Belgium and France took part in the memorial.

Mr Patch was then buried in a private service at Monkton Coombe Church, near Bath.

The 111-year-old was the last British Army veteran of the First World War and the last to have served in the trenches, as an assistant gunner in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, where half a million men died.

Following the death of Henry Allingham aged 113 years on July 18, Mr Patch was briefly the oldest man in Europe until his death on July 25.

The cortege left Fletcher House care home, where he lived for 13 years, amid emotional scenes as carers and residents formed a guard of honour.

People lined the streets of the town as his hearse made its way through lowered flags of the Royal British Legion.

The coffin, covered in the Union flag with a wreath of red roses on top, was carried into the cathedral by soldiers of 1st Battalion The Rifles, with two soldiers of each of the armed forces of Belgium, France and Germany following.

Behind the coffin Mr Patch's great nephew, David Tucker, from Devizes, Wiltshire, carried his medals and decorations.

He said: “I felt I was carrying the medals of all those who fought in the Great War, reflecting the service, dedication and sacrifice they gave to their countries.

“He is getting his wish and having a private burial.

“But he fully understood that if he was the last veteran it had to be marked in some way. He would have been very proud of this, as a culmination of the work he did towards reconciliation.”

Alongside Mr Patch's family and friends, the cathedral was full to its 1,400 capacity while outside hundreds more watched the service on a big screen.

The Duchess of Cornwall, the Duchess of Gloucester, Veterans Minister Kevan Jones and General Sir Richard Dannatt also attended the service.

Marie-France Andre of the Belgian embassy read an extract from Mr Patch's book The Last Fighting Tommy, describing the final moments of a soldier witnessed by Mr Patch on the battlefield — a memory that haunted him.

The anti-war song Where Have All The Flowers Gone was sung to reflect his feelings on the futility of war.

Friend Jim Ross spoke of Mr Patch as an ordinary man with extraordinary charm and experiences who had become a national icon.

He said: “He spent 80 years imprisoning the horrors of the trenches.

“Harry let the demons out and they did their work, emerging in his dreams to torture and terrify him. Harry let it out so we could hear his message of peace and reconciliation.

“Harry was an extraordinary man, the plumber from Coombe Down who showed us true heroism. Now at long, long last Harry can rest in peace.”

The Dean of Wells, John Clarke, spoke at the service of the “end of an era, as the last voice with direct experience of combat in the trenches has fallen silent”.

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