Harry Patch RIP - The Last Tommy - Born 17 June 1898
- Died 25 July 2009
Funeral Service in Wells Cathedral - the
funeral and interment of Harry Patch took place on Thursday
6th August 2009.
Private Harry Patch
Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
A rude awakening
I had a brother who was a regular soldier. He was in
Africa when the war broke out. He was a sergeant major
in the Royal Engineers, who fought and was wounded at
Mons. And they kept him in England after that, as an
instructor. He never went back and he used to tell me
what the trenches were like. I didn't want to go. I
knew what I was going to. A lot of people didn't and
when they got to France they had a rude awakening.
The trenches were about six feet deep, about three
feet wide - mud, water, a duckboard if you were lucky.
You slept on the firing step, if you could, shells bursting
all around you. Filthy.
Infected by lice
From the time I went to France - the second week in
June 1917 - until I left 23rd December 1917, injured
by shellfire, I never had a bath. I never had any clean
clothes. And when we got to Rouen on the way home they
took every stitch of clothing off us: vest, shirt, pants,
everything and they burnt it all. It was the only way
to get rid of the lice. For each lousy louse, he had
his own particular bite, and his own itch and he'd drive
you mad. We used to turn our vests inside out to get
a little relief. And you'd go down all the seams, if
you dared show a light, with a candle, and burn them
out. And those little devils who'd laid their eggs in
the seam, you'd turn your vest inside out and tomorrow
you'd be just as lousy as you were today. And that was
Fighting for their lives
You daren't show above otherwise a sniper would have
you. You used to look between the fire and apertures
and all you could see was a couple of stray dogs out
there, fighting over a biscuit that they'd found. They
were fighting for their lives. And the thought came
to me - well, there they are, two animals out there
fighting over dog biscuit, the same as we get to live.
They were fighting for their lives. I said, 'We are
two civilised nations - British and German - and what
were we doing? We were in a lousy, dirty trench fighting
for our lives? For what? For eighteen pence a flipping
Life in the trenches
You got tots of rum.There were many a man who didn't
like rum, didn't drink it. It used to warm you up. Life
in the trenches, well.can you imagine now, going out
from this room along the corridor and there is a trench
dug across the lawn. Six feet deep and three feet wide.
There is water and mud in the bottom. You sit on a trench
at the side to sleep, don't matter whether it is wet,
fine, hot or cold. Four days you are there and you got
to stick it. That was the conditions.
If any man tells you he went into the front line and
he wasn't scared - he's a liar. You were scared from
the moment you got there. You never knew. I mean, in
the trench you were all right. If you kept down, a sniper
couldn't get you. But you never knew if the artillery
had a shell that burst above you and you caught the
shrapnel. That was it.
You were in that trench. That was your front line.
You had to keep an eye on the German front line. You
daren't leave. No. I suppose if you left, and some of
them did, they were shot as cowards. That is another
thing with shell shock - I never saw anyone with it,
never experienced it - but it seemed you stood at the
bottom of the ladder and you just could not move. Shellshock
took all the nervous power out of you.
An officer would come down and very often shoot them
as a coward. That man was no more a coward than you
or I. He just could not move. That's shell shock. Towards
the end of war they recognised it as an illness. The
early part of the war - they didn't. If you were there
you were shot. And that was it. And there's a good many
men who were shot for cowardice and they are asking
now . that verdict be taken away. They were not cowards.
Sleep in the trenches
Rats as big as cats. Anything they could gnaw, they
would - to live. If you didn't watch it, they'd gnaw
your shoe laces. Anything leather, they would nibble
that. As you went to sleep, you would cover your face
with a blanket and you could hear the damn things run
As you to sat on the firing step, you could have a
doze. Not much more. Half-past seven in the morning,
stand-to and you'd have an inspection. Last thing at
night, you'd have an inspection. You had to sleep in
No Man's Land
Probably you'd hear something in No Man's Land. It
might have been a working party. You reported it. The
officer would have a look through his field glasses.
If it was any good and it wasn't British, give them
a burst. Number One would give them a shot or two out
of the Lewis gun, and after firing that Lewis gun from
one aperture, we would always move down the trench.
This was because, if it was spotted by a German observer
there, the range was sent back to their artillery. Staying
put was an invitation for half a dozen rockets. If you
stayed where you were, you chanced it.
Going 'over the top'
Never forget it. We crawled, couldn't stand up - a
sniper would have you. I came across a Cornishman, he
must have been from 'A' or 'B' companies who were the
assault companies when we went over. 'C' and 'D', we
were support. I came across a Cornishman, he was ripped
from his shoulder to his waist - shrapnel.
Now a bullet wound is clean, shrapnel will tear you
all to pieces. He was laying there in a pool of blood.
As we got to him, he said, 'Shoot me.' He was beyond
all human aid. Before we would pull out the revolver
to shoot him, he died. I was with him in the last seconds
of his life. hen he went from this life, to whatever
Now what I saw in the way of sights at Passchendaele
and at Pilkem - the wounded lying about asking you for
help - we didn't have the knowledge, the equipment or
the time to spend with them. I lost all my faith in
the Church of England.
And when that fellah died, he just said one word: 'Mother.'
It wasn't a cry of despair. It was a cry or surprise
and joy. I think - although I wasn't allowed to see
her - I am sure his mother was in the next world to
welcome him. And he knew it. I was just allowed to see
that much and no more. And from that day until today
- and now I'm nearly 106 years old - I shall always
remember that cry and I shall always remember that death
is not the end.
You've got a memory. You've got a brain about the size
of a tea cup. I've got a memory that goes back for 80
or 90 years and I think that memory goes on with you
when you die. And that's my opinion. Death is not the
At Pilckem Ridge I can still see the bewilderment and
fear on the men's faces when we went over the top. C
and D Company was support. A and B had had to go to
the front line. All over the battlefield the wounded
were lying down, English and German all asking for help.
We weren't like the Good Samaritan in the Bible, we
were the robbers who passed and left them. You couldn't
help them. I came across a Cornishman, ripped from shoulder
to waist with shrapnel, his stomach beside him on the
ground in a pool of blood. As I got to him he said "shoot
me" he was beyond all human aid. Before I could
even draw a revolver he had died. He just said "
Mother" I will never forget it.
The shelling was bad. You could hear the big shells
coming, although if you could hear them that was alright,
they'd gone over. You never heard the whizz-bangs coming
they were just there. And you never heard the shell
or bullet that hit you. Of course the whizz-bangs were
shrapnel and that was worse than a bullet. A bullet
wound was clean, shrapnel would tear you to pieces.
It was a whizz-bang that killed my three friends and
wounded me. it was just bad luck. They had those four
magazines over their shoulders, fully loaded. that's
why they all got blown to pieces.
Shooting to kill
I never knew Bob [Harry's friend and gunner] to use
that [Lewis] gun to kill. If he used that gun at all,
it was about two feet off the ground and he would wound
them in the legs. He wouldn't kill them if he could
[A German soldier] came to me with a rifle and a fixed
bayonet. He had no ammunition, otherwise he could have
shot us. He came towards us. I had to bring him down.
First of all, I shot him in the right shoulder. He dropped
the rifle and the bayonet. He came on. His idea, I suppose,
was to kick the gun if he could into the mud, so making
it useless. But anyway, he came on and for our own safety,
I had to bring him down. I couldn't kill him. He was
a man I didn't know. I didn't know his language. I couldn't
talk to him. I shot him above the ankle, above the knee.
He said something to me in German. God knows what it
was. But for him the war was over.
He would be picked up by a stretcher bearer. He would
have his wounds treated. He would be put into a prisoner-of-war
camp. At the end of the war, he would go back to his
family. Now, six weeks after that, a fellow countryman
of his pulled the lever of the gun that fired the rocket
that killed my three mates, and wounded me. If I had
met that German soldier after my three mates had been
killed, I'd have no trouble at all in killing him.
The night we caught it, we were in the front line and
we were going back. We had taken the German front line,
the German support line and we were coming back from
the German support through the German old front line.
We had to cross what was the old No Man's Land. It was
crossing there that a rocket burst amongst us. It killed
my three mates, it wounded me. We were on open ground.
September 22nd, half-past ten at night. That's when
I lost them. That's my Remembrance Day. Armistice Day,
you remember the thousands of others who died. For what?
For nothing. And today you would never get another trench
warfare. Never. Today, you got the internal combustion
engine, the one like you drive your car and improvement
on that. It's entitled a man to fly, and today a trench
is no good. He simply goes down the trench with his
machine gun - that's it. You'll never get another trench
You didn't know you were hit. You never heard the bullet
or the shell that hit you. All I can remember was a
flash, I went down, blew me down. I suppose I had enough
sense, I saw the blood, I had a field dressing on. I
must have passed out. How long I lay there I don't know.
Next thing I found I was in a dressing station. The
field bandage had gone, the wound had been cleaned and
a clean bandage on it. Around about it was a disinfectant
of some sort, to keep the blinking lice away from the
I lay there all the next day and the doctor came to
me. 'You can see the shrapnel - it must have been a
ricochet.' It was just buried in. He said to me, 'Would
you like me to take that out?' I said, 'How long will
you be?' He said, 'Before you answer yes. With no anaesthetic
in the camp at all, we'd used it on all the people more
seriously wounded than you are.' He said, 'If I take
that shrapnel out it will be as you are now.' Pain from
it was terrific. I said, 'Alright carry on.' Four fellahs
held me down, one on each arm, one on each leg, and
I can feel the cut of that scalpel now as he went through
and pulled it out.
The doctor came to me some hours later. He said, 'You
want this shrapnel as a souvenir?' I said, 'Throw it
away,' and I never saw it again. I met his son, who
was also a doctor, at Buckingham Palace eighty years
later. He told me that if the shrapnel was a quarter
inch deeper, it would have cut a main artery and that
The fellah in the next bed said to me, 'If he writes
anything in that book on the table, a green book, you're
for Blighty.' Well I didn't believe him, and then some
hours later somebody came in, they called my name, my
number. I was out on the Red Cross truck down to Rouen
. And there we had a bath, got rid of the lice, they
burnt our clothing. We could see the hospital ship.
We were out on the hospital ship, but never sailed that
night. There was a rumour of a submarine in the Channel.
We sailed the next night and came to Southampton. I
think if I had gone to the field dressing main station,
I don't think I ever would [have sailed]. It was the
fact that it was the advanced dressing station and they
wanted the beds. Get rid of him.
'E' company were about a thousand strong. We had an
officer we didn't like. He used to take us out route
marches. We didn't like it. That afternoon he wanted
the 'E' company on parade for bayonet practice. The
war had been over for months. The sergeant major opened
the door. Somebody threw a boot at him. He went back,
The officer came and they told him flat that they weren't
going out on parade. Well, he went back to the company
office and about thirty of the men followed him and
they asked for him. He came out, he pulled his revolver
out and he clicked the hammer back. Nobody said anything.
We had all been on the range. I was on fatigue that
morning so I wasn't on parade. Nobody said anything.
They all went back to their huts and they rounded up
what ammunition they could and went back and they asked
for the officer again. He was a captain, risen from
the ranks. He came out and he clicked the hammer back
on his revolver. He said, 'The first man who says he
is not going on parade, I'll shoot him.' No sooner had
he said that, when thirty bolts went back and somebody
shouted, 'Now shoot you bugger if you like.' He threw
the revolver down, disappeared. We were all run up for
We had a brigadier come over from the mainland to hear
the officer's side of it. Then he said, 'I want to hear
the men.' Twenty or thirty of the men went behind a
screen and they told him. They said, 'We don't want
bayonet practice. We've had the real bloody thing. Some
of us are wounded by bayonets.' The outcome was that
there were no parades except just to clear the camp,
just fatigues. The officer was moved to a different
command. We never saw him again. It's a damn good job
The price of war
It wasn't worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth
the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands. T'isn't
worth it . the First World War, if you boil it down,
what was it? Nothing but a family row. That's what caused
it. The Second World War - Hitler wanted to govern Europe,
nothing to it. I would have taken the Kaiser, his son,
Hitler and the people on his side . and bloody shot
them. Out the way and saved millions of lives. T'isn't
Breaking the silence
Opposite my bedroom there is a window and there is
a light over the top. Now [when the staff go into that
room] they put the light on. If I was half asleep -
the light coming on was the flash of a bomb. That flash
brought it all back. For eighty years I've never watched
a war film, I never spoke of it, not to my wife. For
six years, I've been here [in the nursing home]. Six
years it's been nothing but World War One. As I say,
World War One is history, it isn't news. Forget it.
Harry Patch at Bodmin 2007
The above image kindly supplied by
Trevor Jones (on the right) who is an active member
of Re-enactors for the 32nd regt (Cornwall ) foot 1808-1815,
also he and his friend Clive Symonds are members of
Association of Friends of the Waterloo Committee.