Harry Patch : biography
Henry John "Harry" Patch (17 June 1898 – 25 July 2009), dubbed in his latter years "the Last Fighting Tommy", was a British supercentenarian, briefly the oldest man in Europe and the last surviving soldier known to have fought in the trenches of the First World War. Patch was, with Claude Choules and Florence Green, one of the last three surviving British veterans of the First World War and, along with Frank Buckles and John Babcock, one of the last known five veterans worldwide.
At the time of his death, aged 111 years, 38 days, Patch was the verified third-oldest man in the world, the oldest man in Europe and the 69th oldest man ever. He was also the last living man from Europe born in the 1800s.
Patch was born in the village of Combe Down, near Bath, Somerset, England. He appears in the 1901 Census as a two-year-old boy along with his stonemason father William John Patch, mother Elizabeth Ann (née MorrisSee General Register Office indices for quarter ending September 1886, and ), and older brothers George Frederick and William Thomas at a house called "Fonthill". The family are recorded at the same address "Fonthill Cottage" in the 1911 census., The Catalogue, The National Archives. Images of census pages available by subscription on findmypast.com as reference RG14 Piece 14687 Reference RG78PN891 RD316 SD2 ED6 SN65 His elder brothers are recorded as a carpenter and banker mason. Patch left school in 1913, and became an apprentice plumber in Bath., BBC News, 17 June 2007.
In October 1916, he was conscripted as a private into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, serving as an assistant gunner in a Lewis Gun section. Patch arrived in France in June 1917. He fought at the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres) and was injured in the groin when a shell exploded overhead at 22:30 on 22 September 1917, killing three of his comrades. He was removed from the front line and returned to England on 23 December 1917. Patch referred to 22 September as his personal Remembrance Day. He was still convalescing on the Isle of Wight when the Armistice was declared the following November.
He later said: "When the war ended, I don't know if I was more relieved that we'd won or that I didn't have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle – thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Herr Kuentz, Germany's only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?"
After the war, Patch returned to work as a plumber, during which time he spent four years working on the Wills Memorial Building in Bristol, before becoming manager of the plumbing company's branch in Bristol. A year above the age to be called up for military service at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he became a part-time fireman in Bath, dealing with the Baedeker raids. Later in the war he moved to Street, Somerset where he ran a plumbing company until his retirement at age 65.
In 1918, Patch married Ada Billington, who died in 1976. They had two sons, both of whom predeceased him: Dennis, who died in 1984, and Roy, who died in 2002. At age 81 he married his second wife, Jean, who died in 1984. His third partner, Doris, who lived in the same nursing home as him, died in 2007.
Patch had refused to discuss his war experiences, until approached in 1998 for the BBC One documentary Veterans, on reflection of which and the realisation that he was part of a fast dwindling group of veterans of "the war to end all wars", persuaded him to step into the limelight.
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