Jul 25th, 2009 | LONDON -- Harry Patch, the last British army veteran of World War I, has died at 111, the nursing home where he lived said Saturday.
The Fletcher House care home in Wells, southwest England, said Patch died early Saturday.
"He just quietly slipped away at 9 a.m. this morning," said care home manager Andrew Larpent. "It was how he would have wanted it, without having to be moved to hospitals but here, peacefully with his friends and carers."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the whole country would mourn "the passing of a great man."
"The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten. We say today with still greater force, We Will Remember Them," Brown said.
Prince Charles said "nothing could give me greater pride" than paying tribute to Patch.
Patch had been the last surviving soldier from the British army to have served in the 1914-18 war. The only other surviving U.K.-based British veteran of the war, former airman Henry Allingham, died a week ago at age 113.
The Ministry of Defense called Patch "the last British survivor of the First World War," although 108-year-old Claude Choules of Australia is believed to have served in the Royal Navy during the conflict.
Born in southwest England in 1898, Patch was called up for military service in 1916 when he was working as a teenage apprentice plumber. After training he was sent to the trenches as a machine-gunner in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.
A few weeks later, in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, at Passchendaele near the Belgian town of Ypres, he was badly wounded and three of his best friends were killed by a shell explosion.
Patch's death Saturday severs Britain's living links with "the war to end all wars," which killed about 20 million people.
In recent years he and his dwindling band of fellow survivors became poignant symbols of the conflict.
Last year he, Allingham and British naval veteran Bill Stone attended remembrance ceremonies in London to mark the 90th anniversary of the war's end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The three frail men in wheelchairs laid wreaths of red poppies at the base of the stone memorial.
Stone died in January.
At a remembrance ceremony in 2007, Patch said he felt "humbled that I should be representing an entire generation."
"Today is not for me. It is for the countless millions who did not come home with their lives intact. They are the heroes," he said. "It is also important we remember those who lost their lives on both sides."
Patch said he did not speak about the war for 80 years. But he came to believe the casualties were not justified.
"I met someone from the German side and we both shared the same opinion: we fought, we finished and we were friends," he said in 2007.
"It wasn't worth it."
Known as the last Tommy, Patch fought in the battle of Passchendaele in 1917 in which more than 70,000 British troops died.
He became Britain's oldest man when fellow veteran Henry Allingham, who served in the Royal Navy and the RAF, died at the age of 113 a week ago.
The sole British survivor of the first world war is now seaman Claude Choules, 108, who lives in Australia.
Gordon Brown led the tributes to Patch today, saying: "I had the honour of meeting Harry, and I share his family's grief at the passing of a great man."
The prime minister said the sacrifices of Patch's generation would never be forgotten. "We say today with still greater force: 'We will remember them'."
Close friend Jim Ross, who visited Patch regularly over many years, said he had been a peaceful man.
"Harry died peacefully, surrounded by his many friends," he said. "While the country may remember Harry as a soldier, we will remember him as a dear friend.
"He was a man of peace who used his great age and fame as the last survivor of the trenches to communicate two simple messages: remember with gratitude and respect those who served on all sides; settle disputes by discussion, not war."
Patch was a machine-gunner in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. He served in the trenches as a private from June to September 1917.
Born on 17 June 1898, he grew up in Combe Down, near Bath, and left school at the age of 15 to train as a plumber.
He was 16 when war broke out and reached 18 as conscription was being introduced. After six months' training, he was sent to the frontline.
Prince Charles paid tribute to Patch's loyalty and service during the war.
"Harry was involved in numerous bouts of heavy fighting on the frontline but amazingly remained unscathed for a while," he told the BBC.
"Tragically one night in September 1917 when in the morass in the Ypres Salient a German shrapnel shell burst overhead badly wounding Harry and killing three of his closest friends.
"In spite of the comparatively short time that he served with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, Harry always cherished the extraordinary camaraderie that the appalling conditions engendered in the battalion and remained loyal to the end."
Patch's biographer, Richard Van Emden, told the BBC his death was "an enormous loss".
"He was the last of that generation and the poignancy of that is almost overwhelming. He remembered all of those who died and suffered, and every time he was honoured he knew it was for all of those who fought."
Van Emden said his conversations with Patch as he compiled the story of his life were, "a real education".
"He had a sparkle about him, a dry sense of humour, he was just a lovely man. He was one of the most rewarding people to be with."
Fletcher House nursing home in Wells, Somerset, where Patch died, said his funeral was being arranged in accordance with his wishes.
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25 July 2009