Harry Patch (1898-2009)

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Morning_a_Passchendaele._Frank_HurleyInteresting when two worlds collide. This morning the funeral took place of Harry Patch, the last surviving Briton to have fought in the trenches of World War I. He was 111 years old. There have been plenty of words written on Patch’s life, how he refused to speak of his experiences to anyone until approached by BBC documentary-makers in 1998, his views on the futility of war, and what he symbolised to the modern world.

But perhaps the most compelling words were those uttered by Patch himself. One of the most intriguing reactions to his death has been the release by British band Radiohead of a song titled ‘Harry Patch (In Memory Of)’, with lyrics adapted from Patch’s own recollections:

‘I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground
I’ve seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn’

The track is available for download from the band’s website, with all proceeds going to the British Legion. Whatever your politics on this, your take on the British Legion, or your distaste for Thom Yorke et al, it is, nonetheless, interesting both for Patch’s own take on the horrors of war and an interesting intersection between history and art. Not a bad song either.

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