Obituary: Harry Patch

Author: By Aleisha Scott, PA

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.”

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