Monday, January 21, 2008

Veteran, 109, revisits WWI trench

The Germans suffered the same as we did

Harry Patch

The last known surviving British soldier to have fought in the trenches of World War I has revisited the site where he fought 90 years ago.

Harry Patch, 109, from Somerset, made the trip to Belgium to recall his part in the Battle of Passchendaele which claimed 250,000 British casualties.

He also went to pay homage to the tens of thousands of German soldiers who lost their lives.

Tuesday marks the anniversary of the start of the Battle of Passchendaele.

Badly wounded

Mr Patch served with the Duke of Cornwall's light infantry and was called up for service while working as an 18-year-old apprentice plumber in Bath.

During the fighting Mr Patch was badly wounded and three of his best friends were killed when a shell exploded just yards from where he was standing.

He made the trip with historian Richard van Emden, who helped Mr Patch write down his memories.

Wreath laid

Mr van Emden showed him the five miles they advanced over 99 days which claimed 3,000 British casualties every dayMr Patch was also shown a recently discovered panoramic photograph of the fields taken in 1917.

"Too many died. War isn't worth one life," said Mr Patch.

He said war was the "calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings".

Mr Patch laid a wreath at the site of the trench, which now forms part of a German war cemetery.

War effort

"The Germans suffered the same as we did," he said.

Germany also had heavy losses in the battle which has been described as one of the bloodiest and most brutal of the Great War.

The Battle of Passchendaele was officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres - the name of the principal town within a bulge in the British lines.

British commanders wanted to reach the Belgian coast to destroy German submarine bases following a warning that a blockade would soon cripple the war effort.

There was also the prospect of a Russian withdrawal from the war which would strengthen the Germans on the Western Front.

Battle of Passchendaele

The battle lasted from 31 July to 6 November 1917
An initial bombardment of German positions involved 4.5m shells and 3,000 guns
The battle was infamous for the mud - shelling had churned clay soil and smashed drains
The heaviest rain for 30 years made the mud so deep men and horses drowned
The battle ended when British and Canadian forces captured Passchendaele
The village was barely five miles beyond the starting point of the offensive
There was a total of 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties

French soldier Lazare Ponticelli (pictured), 110
British pilot Henry Allingham, 111
Austro-Hungarian artilleryman Franz Kunstler, 107
A small number of other veterans are also still alive

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