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Imperial War Museum - In memory of the 'Last Fighting Tommy'
“You could see was a couple of stray dogs out there, fighting over a biscuit that they’d found. They were fighting for their lives.”
“I said, ‘We are two civilised nations - British and German - and what were we doing? We were in a lousy, dirty trench fighting for our lives? For what? For eighteen pence a flipping day.”
Born on this day in 1898, Harry Patch took part in the Third Battle of Ypres, or Passchendaele, but for decades he did not speak of his service and what he had seen.
Born Henry John in Combe Down, Somerset, Patch was conscripted to the army and served with the 7th (Service) Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.
"I knew what I was going to. A lot of people didn’t and when they got to France they had a rude awakening," he recalled.
In 1917, Patch and his regiment were part of the Third Battle of Ypres and he was at the Battle of Langemarck on August 16. The British attacked in terrible conditions and suffered heavy casualties.
On 22 September 1917, Patch and his Lewis Gun team were caught under an exploding German shell. The blast killed three of his friends and injured him seriously
"All I can remember was a flash, I went down, blew me down I suppose, I saw the blood; I had a field dressing on. I must have passed out. How long I lay there I don’t know"he wrote years later.
First World War Galleries
Discover the story of the First World War through the eyes of the British people and the Empire, both on the home front and the fighting fronts. On display are over 1,300 objects from IWM’s collections including weapons, uniforms, diaries, keepsakes, film and art.
He was sent home for treatment and to recover from his wounds. He would not return to the battlefield - when the armistice was signed in November 1918, he was still recuperating.
During the Second World War, Patch also became a part time firefighter in Bath as he was one year over the conscription age. He had two sons but outlived both of them.
In 1998, Patch started speaking out about his wartime experiences - 70 years after the war had ended the number of veterans who were still alive was dwindling.
He returned to Belgium in 2007 ahead of the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele and told journalists: "Too many died. War isn't worth one life."
Patch died on the July 25 2009, aged 111 years, 1 month, 1 week and 1 day.
His death meant there are no longer any surviving British soldiers who had fought in the trenches of the First World War - that experience had passed from living memory.
Hear Stories You'll Never Forget
Join curators, historians and expert guides and discover the extraordinary stories behind our world leading collections. Book your place on one of our tours to make sure your next visit to any Imperial War Museum branch is unforgettable.