Harry Patch celebrated his 111th birthday on 17 June 2009. 111. And he celebrated by going to his local pub for lunch and a pint. Normally i am not captivated by the birthdays of people whom i do not know personally. But Mr. Patch is a different story.
Harry Patch enlisted in 1914, was involved in several major battles, managed to live through 14 of his enlisted mates being killed or seriously injured, and fought through to 1917. In 1917 he was seriously injured in a mortar explosion in western France that killed 3 of his comrades and sent him back to England. Mr. Patch is the ONLY surviving veteran of World War One who saw active duty in the trenches on the western front. To those of you not familiar with the First World War, this many not seem like a big deal. But it is. The life, and more often death, of the trench soldiers of the Great War was unimaginable, indescribable. My vocabulary does not consist of enough words, or the right words, to accurately describe the horror that faced these soldiers everyday.
There are no words.
But these brave young men went out and fought for freedom, for their country...for their lives. The world will never know warfare like these men experienced. No war is pretty. No amount of death and destruction is better than another. However, the archaic method of trench warfare--of men leaping over the parapet at the sound of a whistle, to struggle across the mud soaked, shell holed, mine filled fields in a desperate attempt to reach the enemy on the other side of the barbed wire, to be met with machine gun and artillery fire, to see comrades gunned down on all sides but still forced to trudge on--never reaching the goal, never really succeeding. the sheer terror of having to carry so much weight in supplies on their back that they knew one slip off the narrow piece of battered wood barely covering the giant water logged mud holes, would mean certain death. a slow sink into the mud hole, unable to pull out and others incapable of helping lest they be sucked in themselves. the horror of hearing fallen comrades screaming and writhing in pain on 'No Man's Land' but knowing that they can not be rescued as the enemy is waiting for any opportunity given to shoot a walking solider, medic or not. can you imagine? once these men are gone, this type of warfare, their experiences, the horror, the fear, the struggles, the pain, it will slowly fade away from our memory.
Whilst the type of warfare is hideous, it saddens me to think of the day when the memories will cease. There are so few men alive today who fought in the First World War. In fact there are only 2 British veterans alive . Harry Patch and Henry Allingham.
Earlier this year there were 3. Sadly William Stone died a few months ago. Harry Patch and Henry Allingham are alive and well. As already mentioned Mr. Patch turned 111 on Wednesday. And Henry Allingham? He turned 113 on 6 June 2009. and today Today, Friday 19 June 2009, he was officially named the worlds oldest man.
Mr. Allingham was born on 6 June 1896 in Clapham, South London. He has lived in three different centuries, seen six British monarchs on the throne, and has five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, 14 great-great grandchildren and one great-great-great grandchild.
He was in the Air Force in the First World War, and saw duty in quite a few major battles. The Battle of Jutland as the most major. He served the duration of the war as well; 1914 all the way through to 1918. Few people managed that incredible feat. An even smaller number are alive to tell their story.
After the end of the war, Mr. Allingham was one of the founding members of the Royal Air Force as it is known and recognised today. He work tirelessly for years for the military, his country and his people. Even now, he tries to stay active doing what he can for his family, friends and community. at 113 he is a more courageous and stronger man that some young people i know today.
Both Harry Patch and Henry Allingham are true, living examples of bravery. They are legends in every sense of the word. It saddens me to think that the time is coming very soon when men such as these will no longer be alive. There will be a day when the epic story of life in the trenches and skies of the First World War can no longer told from first hand experience. there will be a day when these men will be forgotten. My children, even little eleri who is due any day now, will never be able to hear the voices of the courageous soldiers of World War One. That will be a sad day.
Lest We Forget.
(from R to L: Patch, Allingham, Stone)