Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Harry Patch - Great Britain has lost a great Briton

(This is the leader column I wrote for the Bath Chronicle fot its July 30 edition about Harry Patch, the 111-year-old ex soldier from Bath who died at the weekend)

The remarkable outpouring of respect and love for Bathonian Harry Patch, who died at the weekend, is an example of the best of British reactions to the best of British people.

The former Combe Down soldier – who was the oldest man in Britain until his sad passing – was a man whose humility and generosity of spirit touched millions throughout the world.

It is a telling example of the influence he had that the tributes were led by the Queen, Prince Charles and the Prime Minister who all saluted this modest but exceptional man.

The death of Harry marks the end of a sad chapter in British life. He was the last surviving Briton who had fought in the First World War but he was never a “gung ho” type of serviceman and, indeed, the challenging words he said about the whole issue of war and peace should remain as his most important legacy.

We also believe there should be a physical legacy as well.

We must never forget the incredible sacrifices our fellow countrymen went through in two world wars and as the last survivor of that first conflict, we must make sure there is a permanent tribute to Harry in the city he grew up in.

It was for this reason that we came up with the idea of having a street named after Harry – preferably in the new SouthGate centre which will open in the year he passed on. We were delighted to see that many civic leaders immediately responded to our call and although SouthGate’s street names may already be cast in stone, we still hope there may be an opportunity to do something there or elsewhere within our city or in his beloved Combe Down.

To have a street named after Harry – or even a statue put up in Bath – would not be to celebrate war but would be to honour all those who fought in the trenches or latterly on the beaches of Normandy to try to keep our country free.

Harry did not go to war to seek glory and he never sought the acclaim that followed him in his latter years but he truly deserves our public thanks now.
Rest in peace Harry – for no-one has earned that rest more.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Having recently read the autobiography of Harry Patch, I would like to endorse Sam's comments. While it has taken the events in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring the armed forces of our country back to the attention of the national media, there are communities across the country who do their best to remember their own local war heroes. I live in Tamworth, Staffordshire, where a great deal has been done to honour the name of Colin Grazier, the Navy man whose brave deeds helped to crack German U-boat codes in World War II. Now, there are few people in Tamworth who do not know Colin Grazier's name and why he is important. I hope Bath is able to honour Harry Patch and keep his name alive in a similar fashion.