Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Last Tommy

Harry Patch, 1898-2009

Today marks the end of an era in Great Britain. Harry Patch, the last British infantryman (or 'Tommy') of World War I, has passed away. He was 111.

Patch was drafted into the British Army in 1916, two years after the 'Great War' began, where he served as an assistant gunner in a Lewis Gun section. He was deployed to France in June of 1917, and was wounded at Passchendaele (also known as the third battle of Ypres) in September of that year.

With his death, only three veterans of World War One are still living, and none of the remaining veterans saw land combat. Just a few weeks ago, Henry Allingham of Great Britain passed away at the age of 113.

The final living veterans are:

Frank Buckles, 108 - the last American 'Doughboy', who is crusading for a National Memorial in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the First World War (currently, the City of Washington has a poorly-maintained monument to their citizens who served in the conflict).
Claude Choules, 108 - British sailor, who moved to Australia in 1926.
John Babcock, 109 - Canadian infantryman (too young for combat), moved to the U.S. in 1924.

This November 11th will mark the 91st anniversary of the end of the War. It is remarkable that there are still veterans alive from that war, though it has been matched before. The last veteran of the War of 1812 died 90 years later, and his counterparts in the American Civil War and the Spanish-American War died 91 and 94 years later, respectively.

With the passing of these last living monuments goes the first-hand memory of a tragic chapter in history. The end of an era is coming.


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