Saturday, July 25, 2009

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."

11 comments:

Richard said...

Couldn't agree more, Chris. Harry and his kind stand as a stark contrast to the current government, who clearly have no idea whatsoever of the sacrifices soldiers make or the principles that drive them to serve. I was going to mention the lies that took us into Iraq, but I think the current sickening posturing over helicopters for Afghanistan is sufficient example.

Chris Whiteside said...

Indeed.

FireForce said...

We are constantly told they died for our freedom?
I wish someone would come forward and tell me what these freedoms are, because I am at a loss to understand what they are.
When I was younger I used to shoot with self-loading rifles and also go shooting pistols, now all these have been banned, thanks to Conservative governments.
A while ago if the U.K. had gone to war again I would have been one the first to enlist, with my own equipment, but now if the U.K. went to war I would ask who are we fighting? and if they won would we get our freedom back?
Depending on the answers I would fight for the enemy.
We have no freedom worth fighting for in this country now.
Chris remember that when you are an M.P.
Give us back the freedom that these people fought for.
(And yes I have fought for a country, carrying arms.)

Chris Whiteside said...

As I recall it was a Labour government which effectively banned shooting as a sport. This followed a ghastly mass-murder which would have been prevented by properly enforcing the then existing firearms laws.

I have always thought that the first response to a tragedy should be to see whether existing laws and arrangements should have stopped it were they working properly, rather than a knee-jerk reaction of passing new laws which all too oftern have not been properly thought through.

FireForce said...

Fact, The Conservative government under John Major, and Michael Howard, banned full-bore pistol shooting, but also made .22 pistol shooting so regulated that only one pistol club could have operated in the U.K.
Yes the labour government did then ban .22 pistol shooting, but the damage was already done, damage that we could not recover from.
I as a life time Conservative member, last voted in 1992, since then I have abstained from voting,becaues of this issue, then times that by the 100,000 of thousands of shooters who support us.

Yes if the then laws had been enforced the Dunblain killings would not have happened.
or rather he would not have done it with a gun.

There is still the question of freedom that in my last comment to you, if you can think of any freedom that they died for in the last two world wars, I am all ears.

Chris Whiteside said...

A flip answer, but an accurate one, is the freedom not to be put in a gas chamber if you were rude about the Nazis or if you were one of the many arbitrary groups of people Hitler didn't like. (Jews, gays, gypsies, Freemasons, mentally handicapped people, etc, etc, etc ...)

They were also fighting for your freedom to come on sites like this one and say what you think.

I do agree that there has been a huge reduction in individual liberty over the past couple of decades: I would say that state control over our lives has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.

On the specific point about guns I consider that the thousands of law-abiding people who were involved in shooting as a sport and always used their guns responsibly got a very raw deal after Dunblane.

FireForce said...

Well Chris I got you exactly where I need you, you walked right into my trap, for you a catch 22 type situation!
Let me quote you "is the freedom not to be put in a gas chamber,,,(many words)etc...
Yes commendable but the catch 22 situation is /was that the nazis in 1938 eliminated the (private ppossession) of firearms.
So how do I as someone who has been condemded to death or other survive when.
So what, I am saying is we can be put anywhere,, they want to put us providing they want to put us there, how do I stop them? well I do not because you have banned them!

Chris Whiteside said...

Because the Nazis were defeated in World War II this country did not come under the control of a regime which wanted to put those people in gas chambers.

Which is not to deny that the governments we have had make mistakes or that they should all be treated with scepticism.

FireForce said...

Because the nazis lost does not mean it is not going to happen again.
A population that is disarmed is so much more pliable than a populus that will fight back, put yourself in a situation, imagine a situation, people are being moved, you do not know where they are going, but you know you will be caught soon, just at what point do you fight back?
The nazis starting getting dispondent when the Jews started fighting back in the Warsaw ghetto,
Firearms are the very last resort against a government that thinks it can get away with mass murder, and more.
You must ask yourself why does EVERY left, and left of centre government start by disarming the people?
I realise you live close to me, and would like to invite you to a gun club local to you.
I am currently setting up a web site to campaign to get pistol shooting back in the U.K. The idea is to get every pistol shooter (those who shot, and those who would like to) to join their local Conservative party and pledge to vote for them only when a promise of the return of shooting is in the offing.

Chris Whiteside said...

If you live nearby you know how to get hold of me. I would be prepared to take you up on an invitation to visit a local shooting club.

Jane said...

This is a fitting epitaph to a brave hero. He will be sorely missed, but must live on in our memories. I do not share your honour of meeting Mr Patch, but in his television interviews he impressed me with the immensity of his dignity and fortitude.

One cannot begin to imagine the painful memories, which must have haunted Mr Patch’s dreams or the depth of the mourning for numerous fallen comrades. Having never been near a battlefield it would be presumptuous to think I could empathise with his experience. We owe it to posterity to attempt to fully understand the sacrifices made by this generation. My late paternal grandfather, Sergeant Thomas De Loughry of the Royal Horse Artillery, was buried alive by a shell, which caused the dug out roof to collapse. He was trapped for three days with a dead comrade and another who went mad. On the third day another shell blew the collapsed dug out away and he helped his comrade out. The shell-shocked man never recovered and spent the rest of his life in a mental institution. My grandfather, ever loyal, continued to visit the hospital until his comrade died.

I suspect Mr Patch’s consciousness, like that of my late grandfather was illuminated by the bigger picture. The need when it comes to the crunch to resist the encroachment of tyranny. When WW2 started my grandfather was disappointed to be told that he was too old to join up again. Seeing the dangers of fascism, he left Ireland to become a farm labourer in England, so he could contribute to the war effort that way.

Harry Patch and his comrades in arms, who passed on before him must never be forgotten nor must the debt that all lovers of liberty owe them.

My they rest in peace.