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Harry Patch, 1898 - 2009

When you're 111 years old, and the war that you fought in ended ninety-one years ago, it's probably unfair for the world to dwell so much on its part in your life. Harry Patch was the last known survivor of the trenches of World War One, however - and there's just no escaping the cultural importance of that. More that that, though. He was one of the finest advocates for peace that I have ever heard speak.

"War is a calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings," he said in 2007, whilst commemorating the anniversary of Passchendaele. He had spoken often in the past about how his experiences in the trenches had made him a committed pacifist - not that he was ever a violent man anyway. He was a trained marksman, but he had always aimed low, and was proud of the fact that he never killed one of the other side. In recent years, as his great age has made him something of a celebrity, he has spoken numerous times about his experiences, and his belief in diplomacy and peace. It's rare that I've seen the case for pacifism articulated as well, as clearly, and as honestly. It's the added dimension, I suppose, that comes from the memories behind the eyes.

You can't entirely be surprised when you hear of the death of a man of one hundred and eleven, but it's a strange thought that there's nobody left now who fought in the trenches. Nobody left who really knows what it was like. Inevitable perhaps, but still a little unsettling. Some things are best moved past and forgotten about, but some things need remembering. We may not be able to see that world war never happens again - that generation couldn't even manage that one themselves - but learning and remembering is still a start.

And in the meantime, I rather like the fact that the last survivor of the trenches was a man who never once fired a shot to kill. It's somehow symbolic. Peace speaks louder than war.


"Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield
to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak?
All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now where is the sense in that?
It's just an argument between governments."

Harry Patch, 2005.



( 1 fierce growl — Growl fiercely )
Jul. 25th, 2009 11:21 am (UTC)
( 1 fierce growl — Growl fiercely )

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