Memorial to ‘last Tommy’ disappears in Belgium
Harry Patch, who was the last surviving British soldier to have fought in World War One, paid for the memorial himself.
A memorial stone dedicated to Britain’s last survivor of the World War One trenches has gone missing from a plinth in Belgium.
Harry Patch, who died in 2009 aged 111, was the last surviving British soldier to have fought in the conflict and paid for the memorial stone himself.
Mr Patch, from Somerset, was present at the unveiling in 2008 at Langemarck, which is six miles from Ypres where hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) said it was “outraged” at the theft and welcomed a funding appeal to replace the memorial.
“After looking on our files, I can confirm that Harry paid for the stone for the memorial and the CWGC engraved it at our main operational facility in France at no cost,” said a spokeswoman.
“It was our privilege and honour to do so. Although a private memorial and not a CWGC ‘official’ site maintained by us, the memorial was still an important and well visited location on the former Western Front.
“It beggars belief that someone would take a memorial to a man who typified the service and sacrifice of millions of young men during the First World War. Whomever has done so should be deeply ashamed of themselves.
“The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is outraged at the theft and we are fully supportive of the efforts being made to replace the memorial as quickly as possible.”
A crowdfunding appeal to replace the stone has reached its target of 1,500 euros in less than five hours.
The missing memorial was spotted by members of the RAF Air Cadets visiting the western Flanders region from Somerset.
Nick Tolson, chairman of the 914 (Glastonbury and Street) Squadron, said his wife Alison, who is officer-in-charge of the Squadron, had travelled to Belgium with a dozen cadets.
“Alison promised Harry face-to-face that she would look after the memorial,” Mr Tolson told the BBC.
“It marked the point where he crossed the Steenbeek brook in 1917 where three men were killed and Harry was injured before the attack on Langemarck.
“The stone was paid for by Harry and he organised it. Harry would be absolutely gutted, he was such a peaceful gentleman.”