Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier, or "Tommy" from World War One, died on July 25 at 111. He was honoured this week by British band Radiohead in a song available for download on their website for £1. Proceeds will go to the Royal British Legion.
Harry Patch was born on June 17 1898 in the village of Combe Down in Somerset, England. He fought in the trenches at Ypres, Belgium, which was the scene of bloody fighting that killed hundreds of thousands of British and German troops. The battle he fought in, known as the Battle of Passchendaele, or the Third Battle of Ypres, has become a symbol of the slaughter of WWI. Adolf Hitler also fought there.
After sustaining groin injuries caused by shrapnel from a shell which exploded above him and killed three of his comrades he was repatriated to England at the end of 1917. He was still in convalescence when the war ended.
He refused to speak about the war for many years but finally changed his mind after being made aware that he was one of the war’s last survivors.
In a 2003 British television series ‘World War One in Colour,’ he discussed an incident in which he found himself face-to-face with a German soldier. He had the option of killing him but found that he couln’t do so, contenting himself to shoot the German in the shoulder, leg and ankle instead to stop him from reaching his machine gun.
Radiohead singer Thom Yorke was extremely moved by a radio interview he heard a few years ago in which Patch discussed his wartime experiences.
The band eventually decided to write a song for Patch, ‘Harry Patch (In Memory Of)’ which was recorded a few weeks before Patch died. Yorke says that the song is also intended to remind us that the horrors of war should not be forgotten.
After Harry Patch’s death the band decided to make the song available for download on its website for £1 and to donate the proceeds to the Royal British Legion, a charity which provides various kinds of support to ex and current British servicemen and their families.
Harry Patch was the third-oldest man in the world at the time of his death. He would often talk about the futility of war, once describing it as being the "calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings."
He was buried next to his parents and brother at St Michael’s Church, Monkton Combe.