Saturday, July 25, 2009

Last WW1 British Veteran Dies 2009

LONDON (AFP) - - Harry Patch, the last soldier to fight in the trenches of Europe during World War I, died Saturday at the age of 111, drawing poignant tributes led by Queen Elizabeth II.


Patch fought at the notorious Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 -- where an estimated half a million troops perished.

He is listed by the website, regarded as an authoritative chronicle of veterans of the conflict, as the last World War I veteran to have served in the trenches.

"I was saddened to hear of the death this morning of Harry Patch," said Queen Elizabeth II.

"We will never forget the bravery and enormous sacrifice of his generation, which will continue to serve as an example to us all."

Nicknamed "The Last Tommy" by Britain's media, Patch was also Britain's oldest man following the death of fellow veteran Henry Allingham, at the time the oldest man in the world, one week ago.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown added: "The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten.

"We say today with still greater force, we will remember them."

Brown said the sacrifices of the World War I generation would be commemorated in a special national service, likely to be held at Westminster Abbey in London.

"It's right that we as a nation have a national memorial service to remember the sacrifice and all the work that was done by those people who served our country during World War One and to remember what we owe to that generation -- our freedom, our liberties, the fact that we are a democracy," he said.

Claude Choules, 108, who lives in Perth, Australia and served with the Royal Navy, now becomes the last surviving veteran of the 1914-18 conflict from the British side.

Patch did not speak about his wartime experiences until he was aged 100 and was strongly opposed to violent conflict, calling war "organised murder".

"It was not worth it, it was not worth one let alone all the millions," he said of those who died.

"It's important that we remember the war dead on both sides of the line -- the Germans suffered the same as we did."

Last year, he travelled to Belgium to remember his fallen comrades and unveil a memorial.

Patch was conscripted into the British army at the age of 18 and served as a machine gunner with the 7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.

He was 19 when he fought in the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres.

That battle was one of the bloodiest in the conflict. One of the opposing German soldiers was an Austrian named Adolf Hitler.

After four months in the trenches, Patch was wounded by shrapnel and sent home to Britain, his war over.

General Richard Dannatt, the head of the British army, said: "We give thanks for his life -- as well as those of his comrades -- for upholding the same values and freedom that we continue to cherish and fight for today".

Following the war, Patch worked as a plumber until his retirement in 1961. During World War II, he worked as a fireman.

Patch married Ada Billington in 1919 and the couple were married for 58 years until her death. They had two sons, both of whom Patch outlived.

He married his second wife Jean in 1980 but she died in 1984.

Patch's care home, Fletcher House in Wells, southwest England, said he had died early Saturday. His friend Jim Ross added he was "surrounded by his many friends" when he passed away.

The funeral in Wells will focus on prayers for peace and reconciliation, the Ministry of Defence said.

Patch's biographer Richard Van Emden told BBC television that "he was just a lovely man, he had a sparkle and a twinkle about him.

"He was the last of that generation and the poignancy of that is almost overwhelming."

The website says there are now just three Great War veterans left alive -- Choules plus Frank Buckles, 108, of the United States and Canadian John Babcock, 109, who also lives in the US.

Neither Buckles nor Babcock saw active combat, it adds.

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