Henry John Patch (17 June 1898 – 25 July 2009)
Harry Patch died at 9 a.m. on 25 July 2009, aged 111 years, one month, one week and one day. He was the last male First World War veteran living in Europe and the last British male known to have been born in the 1890’s.
Dubbed in his later years as “The Last Fighting Tommy “, he was the longest-surviving soldier of World War I.
Harry Patch joined up in Somerset in October 1916, during WW1 and was conscripted into the British Army. Patch went through a series of short-lived attachments to several regiments, before being posted to the 7th Battalion, DCLI (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry), serving as an assistant gunner in a Lewis Gun Section.
Patch was sent to France in June 1917 to fight on the Western Front at the Battle of Passchendaele. He was injured in the groin, when a shell exploded overhead which killed three of his comrades, after this he was removed from the front line and returned to England on 23 December 1917.
We came across a lad from A company. He was ripped open from his shoulder to his waist by shrapnel and lying in a pool of blood. When we got to him, he said: ‘Shoot me’. He was beyond human help and, before we could draw a revolver, he was dead. And the final word he uttered was ‘Mother.’ I remember that lad in particular. It’s an image that has haunted me all my life, seared into my mind.
An extract from Patch’s book The Last Fighting Tommy which was read out at his funeral by Marie-France André, of the Belgium embassy.
After the First World War, Patch worked as a plumber, then at the outbreak of WW2, as he was a year above the age to be called up for military service, he became a part-time fireman in Bath. After the war he ran a plumbing company until his retirement at the age of 65.
Harry Patch received eight medals and honours for his service in the First World War which in accordance with his wishes we have displayed in the Museum.
He received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal 1998. As a surviving veteran of the First World War, who had fought for the Allies in France and Flanders, the President of the Republic of France made him a Knight of the Legion D’Honneur which was presented to Harry Patch on his 101st birthday.
For service during the Second World War, Patch was awarded the 1939-45 Defence Medal.
Patch’s funeral was held at Wells Cathedral, in Somerset on Thursday 6 August 2009. At 11:00 a.m., the bells of Wells Cathedral were rung 111 times to mark each year of his life. The theme of the service was “Peace and Reconciliation” and in addition to pallbearers from The Rifles, Patch’s coffin was accompanied by two private soldiers from each of the armies of Belgium, France and Germany. And in accordance with Patch’s instructions, no guns were allowed at the funeral and even the officiating soldiers did not have their ceremonial weapons on them.
The Harry Patch, WW1 and 2 displays are on permanent exhibit within the museum.