Thursday, August 6, 2009

Britain's 'Last Tommy' Laid To Rest

I felt bad about not commenting on the passing, two weeks ago of Britain's Last Tommy, and last surviving veteran of World War I, Harry Patch ('Tommy' was to the Brits what ‘GI Joe’ is to Americans, Mr. Patch was the last living member of Britain's WWI army). Mr. Patch was laid to rest today in a ceremony with full military honors.

Like his countryman and fellow British WWI vet, Henry Allingham who passed away a few weeks earlier, Mr. Patch didn't talk about his wartime experiences for eight decades, not until he was one of the last veterans left, when he felt a responsibility to speak for all those who no longer could. When he did his message was decidedly anti-war, recounting the horrors of the trench warfare that killed millions on both sides during years of what was basically a stalemate between the two sides.

Patch thought that Remembrance Day (British Veteran's Day) was just "show business", he instead paid his respects on Sept. 22, the day in 1917 when a bomb blew three of his best friends to bits and grievously wounded him. Along those lines, an amazing tribute was offered to the 111-year old vet by the British pop band Radiohead who issued "Harry Patch (in memory of)", setting lines from his Autobiography "The Last Fighting Tommy" to music (I haven't heard it yet, but from what I've heard, it's pretty moving). The song includes the lines:
I am the only one that got through
The others died wherever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I've seen devils coming up from the ground
I've seen hell upon this earth

For the record, there are only three known WWI veterans left, including 108-year old American Frank Buckles who drove an ambulance on the battlefields of France.
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