Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

Harry Patch was Britain’s last surviving combat veteran of World War I. He lived for 111 years, passing away on June 25.

Over the last decade of his life, as the number of surviving Great War veterans dwindled to a handful, he ended a lifetime of silence about his experiences amidst the horrors of the Western Front:

He remembered the fear and bewilderment of going “over the top”, crawling because walking meant the certainty of being mowed down by the German machine guns. As his battalion advanced from Pilckem Ridge, near Ypres, in the summer rain of 1917 the mud was crusted with blood and the wounded were crying out for help. “But we weren’t like the Good Samaritan in the Bible, we were the robbers who passed them by and left,” said Patch.

As his unit came across a member of the regiment lying in a pool of blood, ripped open from shoulder to waist, the man said: “Shoot me”. But before anyone could draw a revolver, the man died with the word “Mother” on his lips. “It was a cry of surprise and joy,” recalled Patch, “and I’ll always remember that death is not the end.”…

At 10.30pm on September 22 his five-man Lewis gun team was crossing open ground single file on the way back to the support line when a shell exploded, blowing the three carrying the ammunition to pieces. Patch was hit in the groin, and thrown to the ground. Waking in a dressing station he realised that, although very painful, his wound was little more than a scratch.

To honor Patch’s memory, the band Radiohead have released a haunting new song titled “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)”. That’s it embedded at the top of this post; click here for video if your reader doesn’t show it.

You can buy this track for £1 (about $1.66) from Radiohead’s Web site. The band is donating all proceeds from the sale of “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” to the Royal British Legion, a British veterans’ charity.

UPDATE (August 10): Radiohead’s lyrics are taken from Harry Patch’s own words; you can read more of them in his autobiography, The Last Fighting Tommy.

Wondering why British soldiers came to be called “Tommies”? Here’s your answer.


Daniel Cardozo

August 13, 2009
12:17 pm

“But we weren’t like the Good Samaritan in the Bible, we were the robbers who passed them by and left.”
A very haunting reminder that the most awful impacts of war can be psychological.
Despite being a life-long progressive and a believer in peace, I do greatly appreciate the sacrifice of those, like Harry Patch, who served in battle. And I’m glad I never had to experience it first hand.
Thanks for this post.