Harry Patch RIP
A few years ago, as a member of the Court of Bristol University, I attended a special meeting at which we gave an honorary degree to Harry Patch, who was then one of the last survivors of the troops who fought for Britain in the trenches of the first world war.
Harry, who in his youth had helped to build the University Building where the ceremony took place, attended in his wheelchair to accept the degree. I was struck by his courage, serenity, and above all by his modesty.
I have just heard that Harry died today as the last surviving British WW1 veteran soldier.
As someone who has had the good fortune never to be within a thousand miles of a battlefield, I can have no conception of how dreadful the experiences of Harry Patch and others was. I do know that if millions of people like him had not been prepared to risk their lives for this country in two world wars, this country might be a living nightmare today. And I know that vast numbers of young lives were ruined in those wars, including my great uncle, Fusilier Robert Whiteside, who was killed at the age of 18 just a few weeks before the end of the first world war.
When I was a boy, first world war veterans were more common than those from the second war are now: my uncle, who was a veteran of the second war, died of old age a few weeks ago. As these terrible wars pass from living memory into history, it is important that we continue to remember how much they cost and what sacrifices were made for our generation and those of our children.
Rest in Peace, Harry. From the one occasion I heard you speak I think you were a far greater man than you ever realised.
David Cameron has just issued this statement:
"I was so saddened to hear of the death of Harry Patch. The passing of our last surviving WWI soldier marks the end of an era and is a reminder of the huge debt of gratitude we owe Harry and those he served alongside. The sort of conditions they experienced and sacrifices they made are difficult for my generation to even imagine. We must never forget them and we will continue to fight for the values they fought for. My deepest sympathies are with his family."