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Europe

Thousands bid farewell to last Great War veteran

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-11-11

A huge crowd gathered around Wells cathedral in south-west England for the funeral of Harry Patch, Britain's last surviving World War I veteran, who died on July 25 at the age of 111. Click below for Radiohead's musical tribute.

AFP - Thousands of people paid their respects Thursday at the funeral of Harry Patch, the last soldier to fight in the trenches of Europe in World War I, who died at the age of 111.
  
Path was laid to rest after a service in Wells Cathedral, in Somerset, southwest England, attended by 1,400 people who heard that he was an ordinary man who had inadvertently become a symbol of the horrors of war.
  
Thousands more followed the service on a giant screen outside the cathedral.

 

At the age of 19, Patch fought at the notorious Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, where an estimated half a million troops were killed, but waited until his 100th year before speaking about his wartime experiences.
  
The Very Reverend John Clarke, Dean of Wells, said at the service: "Harry was an ordinary Somerset man, a plumber who tended his vegetable gardens, looked after his chickens but he became extraordinary, someone who was an icon for our nation and for western Europe."
  
Patch, who died on July 25, was also briefly Britain's oldest man following the death a week before his own of fellow World War I veteran Henry Allingham at the age of 113. At the time, Allingham was the oldest man in the world.
  
Their deaths leave just two surviving World War I veterans -- Franck Buckles, 108, of the United States and British-born Claude Choules, 108, who lives in Perth, Australia.
  
Unlike Patch, however, neither Buckles nor Babcock saw active combat in the 1914-1918 war, says the French website dersdesders.free.fr which tracks the last survivors of the conflict.
  
Veterans Minister Kevan Jones told mourners on Wednesday that Patch's death "marks the passing of a generation, and of a man who dedicated his final years to spreading the message of peace and reconciliation."
  
"Active participation in the Great War is now no longer part of living memory in this country, but Harry Patch will continue to be a symbol of the bravery and sacrifice shown by him and those he served with."
  
In his final years, Patch spoke frequently about the conflict, calling it "organised murder," Jones added.
  
"It was not worth it, it was not worth one let alone all the millions," he said of the dead.
  
Patch's coffin was carried into the cathedral by British soldiers of 1st Battalion The Rifles, with two soldiers of each of the armed forces of Belgium, France and Germany acting as pall-bearers.
  
His great-nephew, David Tucker, carried his medals and decorations.
  
Diplomats from Belgium and Germany also played a prominent role in the service.
  
Marie-France Andre of the Belgian embassy read an extract from Patch's book "The Last Fighting Tommy" in which a dying German soldier's cry of "mother!" convinced him there was an afterlife.
  
"From that day I've always remembered that cry and that death is not the end," Patch had written.
  
"I remember that lad in particular. It is an image that has haunted me all my life, seared into my mind, but you saw plenty of people wounded, crying for help, but of course you daren't stop, for one you didn't have the medical knowledge to help them and for another you didn't have the time; your orders were to press on and support the infantry."
  
Eckhard Wilhelm Lubkemeier, charge d'affaires of the German embassy in London, read a lesson from the Bible.

Date created : 2009-08-06

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