Posted by: Martin Fox | March 10, 2009

UK survivor of WWI trenches given French honor

captphoto_1236609864908-1-01Remembering those who came before. This article honors Harry Patch, the United Kingdom’s sole remaining survivor of WW1 trench warfare. The story brought forth a bit of emotion for me, on many levels.

World War One was the “war to end all wars.” It was a brutal conflict that took 8 million soldier’s lives, along with countless civilian casualties. It was the first war to utilize the gears of modern warfare: with machine guns, tanks, deadly chemical weapons, and airplanes.

At the same time, it was a conflict that engaged many of the old rules of warfare: with cavalry, horse-drawn guns, and waves upon waves of brave soldiers mowed down in senseless slaughtering assaults against the new weapons of modern warfare.

It was the war that created the League of Nations – the global shock so horrific that the world’s governments created an organization to prevent future wars (nice idea, but a failed goal.) It was the war that led to the communist revolution in Russia, ending the reign of the Romanov dynasty and creating the Soviet Union in it’s vacuum.

Perhaps most horrific, the harsh post war terms of peace on the German population are arguably what provided for the rise to the Nazi party in Germany and World War II. 

The article makes me sad in other ways as well. It is a reminder of my beloved grandfather and his older brother Charles. Two highly principled, ivy league educated brothers who went off to fight in the war.

I miss my grandfather every day, a gentleman farmer/rancher and story teller of the highest rank. He was a man born in the 1800’s, an adventurer who traveled to exotic lands on ships at sea in a time when it took months to travel from China to the USA. He was a man who could tell me his personal excitement upon learning of the Wright brother’s flight at Kitty Hawk (living history). He was a man who witnessed the mind boggling technological advancements as our country moved from the horse based agrarian culture of his youth to automobiles, trans-continental flights, and watching man walk on the moon.

Yes, in my eyes, the generation of Harry Patch and my grandfather was the generation who witnessed the greatest changes in the world to date. While the digital age is amazing in it’s ability to connect our planet real time, when compared to my grandfather’s life, what I have seen in my life time is an incrementalism of sorts. Cheers to my grandfather, Harry Patch and their generation.

Peace out – Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership.

UK survivor of WWI trenches given French honor

By RAPHAEL G. SATTER, Associated Press Writer

LONDON – The last British survivor of World War I’s grinding trench warfare was made an officer of the French Legion of Honor on Monday.

French Ambassador Maurice Gourdault-Montagne awarded 110-year-old Harry Patch the medal at a ceremony in Patch’s nursing home in Wells, 120 miles (190 kilometers) west of London, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Patch, who served as a machine-gunner in the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, told Gourdault-Montagne he was proud of the honor.

“Ambassador, I greatly appreciate the way your people respect the memory of those who fell, irrespective of the uniform they wore,” he said in a raspy, deliberate voice. “I will wear this medal with great pride and when I eventually rejoin my mates it will be displayed in my regimental museum as a permanent reminder of the kindness of the people of France.”

Patch is one of only two surviving British veterans of World War I, according to the Ministry of Defense. The second, 112-year-old Henry Allingham, served as an airman.

Patch had already been made a Knight of the French Legion in 1998, along with more than 300 other veterans of the conflict, in which more than 8 million soldiers perished.

An officer of the French Legion of Honor is a higher rank.

Patch was called up for service in the British army in 1916 when he was working as an apprentice plumber. Thrown into the Allied offensive to take the village of Passchendaele, near the Belgian town of Ypres, he was badly wounded and three of his best friends were killed by shrapnel.

Patch was due to return to France when the war ended in 1918. He went home, returned to work as a plumber, and raised a family. He didn’t start talking about his war experiences until the 21st century.


  1. I applaud your heartfelt appreciation and reverence for your grandfather and those of his generation. I know it sounds cliche, but there is a wealth of information and wisdom to be gleaned from previous generations; much of which is unlike that obtained from books. I’m glad you can recognize your experiences with your grandfather for what they truly were: a gift.

  2. Like all veterans of WW1 and those who sadly lost their lives in that conflict this brave old soldier deserves to be remembered and honoured for ever. I salute him and his comrades.

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