Thousands pay tribute to last voice of trenches

Author: By Aleisha Scott and James Woodward, Press Association

Mr Patch, 111, who did not want a state funeral and said he would have liked a
simple burial in the village of his birth, was honoured at a service at
Wells Cathedral, in Somerset.

He was the last British Army veteran of the First World War and the last to
have served in the trenches of the Western Front, serving as an assistant
gunner in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry at the Battle of
Passchendaele in 1917, where some half a million men died on both sides.

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

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

His hearse made its way through the town as people lined the streets to pay
their respects.

Two fire engines and crews from Avon Fire and Rescue and Devon and Somerset
Fire and Rescue were in position on either side of the high street in salute
to Mr Patch’s career in the fire brigade.

At the top of the high street, Royal British Legion and Service Association
flags were positioned on both sides of the road and were lowered when the
hearse passed.

Members of the Royal British Legion bearing standards formed a second guard
outside the cathedral as bells sounded.

Last week hundreds of people queued outside the cathedral for several hours to
get one of the 1,050 tickets to the funeral which were allocated to the
public.

And despite the rain, hundreds more waited for hours outside the cathedral to
watch the service on a big screen.

Men and women of all ages – including Glastonbury festival organiser Michael
Eavis – watched in respectful quiet as the eulogies and music were played.

Among them was Andy Tams, who brought his six-year-old son Tolly from
Staffordshire.

He said: “I have a lot of interest in the war so I felt it right to come along
and pay our respects and say goodbye.

“We went to Normandy for the D-Day anniversary. I wanted to keep my son’s
interest alive.

“Harry Patch represented the end of an era. It is a part of Britain that is
now lost.”

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 as
pall-bearers.

Behind the coffin Mr Patch’s great nephew, Dave Tucker, from Devizes,
Wiltshire, carried his medals and decorations and said: “I feel extremely
proud to have carried Harry’s medals today.

“Echoing Harry’s message of peace and reconciliation, 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.”

Alongside Mr Patch’s family and friends, the cathedral was full to its 1,400
capacity of people who wanted to pay their respects to a man they may never
have met but who has come to represent a generation of sacrifice.

They were joined by the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duchess of Gloucester in her
capacity as president of the World War One Veterans’ Association, Veterans
Minister Kevan Jones and General Sir Richard Dannatt.

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 that he
witnessed on the battlefield – a memory that haunted him.

The anti-war song Where Have All The Flowers Gone was sung by 15-year-old
Folasade-Nelleke Lapido, head chorister at Wells Cathedral.

The song was chosen by Mr Patch’s family to reflect his feelings on the
futility of war.

Close friend Jim Ross spoke of Mr Patch as an ordinary man with extraordinary
charm and experiences who became a national icon.

He spoke of the first time he met Mr Patch at Fletcher House 11 years ago and
recalled the only time he ever talked to him about the war because “there
were better things to talk about and fun to be had”.

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.

“We are the ordinary ones. Harry was the extraordinary man, the plumber from
Coombe Down who showed us true heroism.

“Now at long, long last Harry can rest in peace.”

Dr Eckhard Wilhelm Lubkemeier, charge d’affaires of the German Embassy, read a
passage from Corinthians.

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

He said: “The trenches marked his years but it was only few months of a long
life.

“It was this ordinariness that made him so attractive and that we celebrate
today.

“Harry believed that the world could be repaired. His hope remains a poignant
and urgent message for our time as British servicemen once again face death
and injury on foreign fields.”

The service concluded with a bugler sounding the Last Post and a minute’s
silence as Mr Patch’s coffin was taken out.

Nick Fear, another close friend of Mr Patch, recited The Ode of Remembrance
and dedicated it to Mr Patch and the three friends he lost in the
battlefield.

Elgar’s Nimrod was played while the hearse left Cathedral Green.

Mr Patch was then taken for a private burial ceremony at Monkton Coombe Church.

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