Harry Patch has died

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Wellclose Square
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Jul 25 2009 23:09
Harry Patch has died

I found out yesterday that 'the last Tommy' had died at 111, but it's just been on the BBC news, and they've wheeled out Prince Charles and Gordon Brown to defend WW1 (for that's what they've done).

Charles and Gordon have got no-one left alive who was there to contradict them now, so they can deliver their eulogies to Harry Patch while trotting (over Harry Patch's body) out the line that WW1 was 'to defend freedom'. I can't say I was surprised by what they said, but I'm still disgusted, considering that it was common knowledge (increasingly lost on those who would dress in WW1 uniforms like they're in some Napoleonic War reconstruction) that the whole 'exercise' was an utter bloodbath of benefit to the soldiers of neither side - as Harry Patch knew, and anyone who had relatives who survived it or died in it. Maybe I am surprised...it's taken me nearly an hour to write this, with numerous deletions - but it's made me wish the Welsh Nationalists had got their man in 1969...as if I shouldn't have thought that before.

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arminius
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Jul 25 2009 23:59

Well said. Agreed.

no1
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Jul 26 2009 00:30

I agree. Harry Patch seems to have been quite strongly anti-war, with statements such as "War is organised murder and nothing else" and "politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder". He also insisted on commemorating soldiers from both sides of WW1. And during the war itself, he made a pact with others not to kill German soldiers by aiming for their legs.

Prince Charles and Gordon Brown are pissing on his grave before he's even buried. What scum.

petey
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Jul 26 2009 01:51

i'm a yank, i wouldn't know harry patch from adam, but in the guardian (iirc) obit that quote about the uselessness of WW1 and all war was reported. this puts him in the good company of smedley butler and other war veterans who knew what was behind it all.

Beltov
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Jul 26 2009 19:04

Yes. The statements of Brown and the army brass made me sick too. These people have blood on their hands and were taking advantage of the situation (even bringing in Afghanistan) before the guy is even buried.

The BBC's obituary of him mentions none of his anti-war sentiments, instead highlighting tributes from the likes of Prince Charles. The obituary in The Guardian gives a little more insight:

Quote:
Patch had always felt, he wrote in The Last Fighting Tommy, that "politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder".

In 1963 Patch retired; 15 years later Ada died. Throughout those times, his marriage to Jean two years later, his second widowerhood in 1984, and the deaths of Dennis and Roy, his two sons by Ada, Patch never spoke of the first world war. Only at 100, with another companion, Doris, who died in 2007, did he broach the subject, and finally he returned to Ypres at the age of 105. "The idea was that I would lay a wreath to the memory of my dead friends, but I couldn't. I looked from the [coach] window and the memories flooded back and I wept, and the wreath was laid on my behalf."

Other returns included for the BBC's The Last Tommy (2005), when he met a German veteran, Charles Kuentz. Patch told the then prime minister, Tony Blair, that nobody during the first world war should have been shot for cowardice. "War is organised murder," he insisted, "and nothing else." He said that, for him, 11 November was "just showbusiness". Instead, "the day I lost my pals", 22 September 1917, was his true remembrance day. Trench dogs had fought over biscuits snaffled from dead men's tunics, and Patch had thought, "what are we doing that's really any different? Two civilised nations, British and German, fighting for our lives."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/25/harry-patch-obituary

There's a plan to have a big national commemoration of WW1 now -- no doubt it will be used to push forward the same messages. Maybe it's an opportunity for internationalists to put the record straight?

The best poem I ever learnt at school...

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/owen1.html

Final words go to Harry: "War isn't worth one life."

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Steven.
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Jul 26 2009 19:27

Yeah I was reading about it in the papers today as well. I usually don't get angry about stuff in the news, but Brown and Prince Charles talking shit really made me sick to my stomach.

Wellclose Square
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Jul 26 2009 21:12

Beltov, I remember doing that poem at school too.
I never met my dad's dad, he died a couple of years before I was born, of TB, a condition exacerbated by the fact that he was gassed on the Somme. He never talked to my dad about the war, other than one occasion when he said he sat on the ground, only to find he was sitting on a German's body. That whole war cast a ghastly shadow - when my other grandad's father was killed in 1918, his father's sister threw herself down the stairs on getting the news. She survived, but was struck dumb with grief. The thought that swine like Prince Charles and Gordon Brown are reinventing that slaughter to encourage generations that its long shadow hasn't touched is completely sickening.

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Jul 27 2009 03:59

What i find strange is that 'silent night' on christmas didn't just continue the next day. It gets taught that they spent the day in no-mans land drinking, sharing cigarettes and having a good time, and that in the morning they slunk back to the trenches to start killing each other again. Strikes me as odd.

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jef costello
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Jul 27 2009 08:06

I could be wrong but I think it did continue in quite a few places.

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Jul 27 2009 12:24

It did in a few, but there was a lot, I mean a LOT, of pressure put on the guys by the higher ups, including the possibility of summary shooting by your own side, to get the war going again. There was terror that this peace stuff, reported in some papers at the time, would not only put the fighting spirit out of the men, but also raise questions among the foks at home, like 'who is this war really FOR?'

All this is from memory, of course. I'd have to dig up the particulars (please don't ask.)

Anyway, wasn't there an old thread on the Christmas truce somewhere on Libcom?

baboon
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Jul 27 2009 20:32

I share the disgust about the sickening hypocrisy surrounding old Harry from the ruling class. All the TV channels have tried to use him as well; the "objective" patriotic BBC, ITV and Sky, as well as the tabloids.
Echoing the terrible injuries and disfigurements of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, he wrote in the 21st century of the fact that in the battles at Ypres: "it wasn't the case of seeing them with a nice bullet hole in their tunic, far from it...."
He was badly wounded in the chest in September 1917 but wasn't discharged until over a year later. Indeed, he was on a firing range with some comrades the day after Armistice day, 1918, when they confronted an abusive officer, who drew his pistol, with their rifles: "Had he not backed down", said Harry, "he would have been shot, no doubt about that".
An expression of the working class we should remember.

It reminded me of my own grandfather who was badly wounded in the head at Passchendaele on the first days of fighting. He was sent home, operated on, a plate put in his head and quickly discharged from hospital. Walking home a gang of patriotic women attached white feathers to his coat for being a coward and not going to fight.

On the Christmas truce: from what I remember of a TV programme a while ago, in the front line in France between British and German troops, it was very difficult to get soldiers to fire at each other, often communicating between themselves. I think that this went on for some time over a number of soldiers and I believe it's where the phrase "live and let live" came from, ie, we don't fire at you, you don't fire at us. I think it necessitated artillery bombardments to get it going.

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Alf
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Jul 28 2009 08:08

we've just posted an article on this on our website

http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2009/old-soldiers

Wellclose Square
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Jul 28 2009 17:18

Just read that, Alf. Spot on.

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Alf
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Jul 28 2009 23:05

Glad you liked it. But the real credit should go to Gordon Brown's hideous smile as he was praising Harry Patch, which, as with Steven, turned my stomach and inspired the article.

petey
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Jul 29 2009 00:08

alf there's something wrong with your website. i'm redirected to this:
http(colon-double backslash)a2s44.a2hosting.com/suspended.page/

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This page is currently unavailable
If you are the webmaster for this site, please contact your hosting provider's support team for assistance.
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PartyBucket
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Jul 29 2009 10:52

Harry Patch was also, strangely enough, a columnist / 'agony uncle' for fucking FHM before his death. Their obituary also made reference to the pact he made with his friends to try not to kill anyone if they didnt have to.

ernie
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Jul 29 2009 12:16

Ttotaly agree with Baboon about the way these bastards are using his death to justify the present slaughter and as part of the longer term campaign to make WW1 a 'good war'. There is a well organised campaign to do this. The 'celebration' that they plan will be a good opportunity for internationalist to show the nature of this war and also the working class opposition to it.

Beltov
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Jul 29 2009 12:17
petey wrote:
alf there's something wrong with your website. i'm redirected to this:
http(colon-double backslash)a2s44.a2hosting.com/suspended.page/
Quote:
This page is currently unavailable
If you are the webmaster for this site, please contact your hosting provider's support team for assistance.

Fixed. Sorry for the brief outage.

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Jul 29 2009 13:30

All the talk of the Christmas truce reminds me of the film Joyeux Noël which was pretty good if I can remember rightly; it showed soldiers fraternising long after the truce, even alerting each other of artillery strikes.

Whilst we're on the topic, does anyone know of any good books about either the Christmas truce or fraternisation during war?

baboon
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Jul 29 2009 19:05

Molly, there's a good review of the film Joyeux Noel on the ICC's French website (if you speak French). It criticises the film's shortcomings fixating on the truce as an exeptional event (I read it quickly) and quotes the Manchester Guardian of 7.1.15, saying, that after the truce: "they returned to the trenches ... and brutally resumed killing each other". That seems to be the line from the bourgeoisie about "the Christmas truce", ie, it was a one-off, well it was Christmas and back to the fighting on Boxing Day. Whereas, throughout the war, British, German, French, Russian and Austro-Hungarian troops all fraternised exchanging, food, cigarettes, news, etc.
I don't know of any books on this particularly, but there are some further references on the website. A good pamphlet on British (and other troops) during WWI, is Dave Lamb's (Solidarity) "Mutinies: 1917-1920". And on the German naval mutinies, the well researched "Mutiny on the High Seas" by Daniel Horn.

Just a point on my post above about my grandfather and the white feather business. I was provoked by this memory to ask some of my older relatives (a dwindling bunch) if they remembered the story about the old man. They did and told me it was the Suffragettes who were doing it. Looking up Sylvia Pankhurst, she mentions it and the rabid nationalism of the suffragette movement. They changed the name of their paper from The Suffragette to Britannia, demanded the internment of all enemy men, women and children and criticised the government for not pursuing the war ruthlessly enough. They also handed out and stuck on white feathers to any young men in civilian clothes.

David in Atlanta
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Jul 31 2009 12:04

Dave Lamb's booklet is available here:
http://libcom.org/library/mutinies-dave-lamb-solidarity

petey
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Jul 31 2009 15:16

accounts like that are particularly encouraging. the libcom library also has stuff about US soldiers' resistance in vietnam.

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 31 2009 15:39

for anyone in or around Brighton, the next Class Struggle Forum is on 'War and the Class Struggle', Tuesday 18th August in the back room of the Prince Albert pub, Trafalgar Street.

Wellclose Square
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Aug 6 2009 20:25

It was Harry Patch's funeral today. I didn't see the TV news today but heard the radio at 1:00, and apparently the service was in line with his request for 'peace and reconciliation', so presumably no flag-waving or fly-pasts. A true diamond. RIP.

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Joseph Kay
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Aug 6 2009 21:13
BBC wrote:
The Ministry of Defence said the involvement of soldiers from France, Belgium and Germany symbolised Mr Patch's desire for reconciliation and his view that, "irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims".

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8186578.stm

alright admitting that a century on, what about the present wars then?

no1
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Aug 6 2009 21:24
Wellclose Square wrote:
apparently the service was in line with his request for 'peace and reconciliation', so presumably no flag-waving or fly-pasts. A true diamond. RIP.

errr.... from the BBC:


Six pallbearers from the 1st Battalion The Rifles carried the coffin of World War I veteran Harry Patch into Wells Cathedral. Mr Patch served with The Rifles, formerly the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.

Wellclose Square
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Aug 6 2009 22:31

Hmmm... I 'presumed' a bit 'wrong', but nevertheless, it wasn't the bells 'n' whistles militarism-fest which accompanied poor Henry Allingham's funeral last week, which 'presumably' ensured it was top of the news schedule alongside the barely-disguised(?) narrative of supporting the mission in Afghanistan. Harry's funeral, by contrast, was the last thing before the local news, as if his real anti-war attitudes were something to be played down and quietly passed over. Saw the BBC report, it wasn't 'bad', but...

ernie
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Aug 7 2009 21:27

No one is claiming he was a communist etc but a old soldier and plumber who had seen enough of war to know its was an extension of politics and had nothing to do with freedom.
In his book The last fighting Tommy which I have only skimed through so far he said he felt he should do his bit in WW2 but commenting about his feelings about the war and war generally he says " I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder. I had not interest in what happened to the Nazis war criminals. Another war was over, and once again both I and my family had paid a price that was always too high" (page 188-89). This is a stark answer to all the politicians, military and royals who try to claim he justified their imperialist barbarism.
His thoughts on Remembrance day are very interesting " For me the 11 November is just show business. Take the Armistice celebrations that night on television: it is nothing but but a show of military force, that's all. I don't think these is any actual remembrance except for those who have lost someone they really cared for in either war. That day, the day I lost my pals, 22 September 1917 -that my remembrance day, not Armistice Day." (p 203)
From what I have read of the book he was a decent humane man who cared deeply about the suffering of others. He tells of how during the Second world war he was a plumber on a US camp where the soldiers were kept apart by race, and he choose to spend his dinner times with the black soldiers who he felt were unfairly treated and nicer than the white ones, and who cooked really interesting and different food and who always asked him to eat with them.
The presence of the military at his memorial service and the flag on his coffin, would appear to be in contradiction with what he says in his book, but then so did the general theme of the service: peace and reconciliation. It is what he asked for! His actual funeral service was for family and friends only. He certainly would be turning in his grave if he could her the head of the army claiming he would have supported the war in Afghanistan, but then the bourgeoisie know no respect for the dead!

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Aug 8 2009 00:58

Ernie wrote:

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He certainly would be turning in his grave if he could her the head of the army claiming he would have supported the war in Afghanistan, but then the bourgeoisie know no respect for the dead!

Far be it from anyone to say 'What Harry would be feeling', but, yes, he would be turning in his grave - his own words would indicate that.

The Daily Mirror's coverage has been pretty mendacious (let's ignore the Mail, Sun, etc.). A caption under a picture of two young girls outside Wells Cathedral reads A LATER GENERATION'S GRATITUDE - the sort of throwaway comment that follows the same script as that obscene inscription on the Cenotaph - OUR GLORIOUS DEAD - as if people couldn't pay their respects to the man as a decent human being, rather than doffing the cap to the ruling ideas of 'sacrifice', 'serving the nation', 'keeping us safe from the Hun', which is the subtext that generals, politicians and newspaper editors are pushing. Sue Carroll was predictably revolting on this score...

It's hard enough to get 'them' to 'tell the truth' about you when you're alive, let alone when you're dead and you can't answer back, especially when it's critical that 'the bourgeoisie' have to have the last word, over and against 'the last Tommy'...forward to the next imperialist massacre...oh, yes, it's already going on...

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Aug 8 2009 21:21

As I heard it, he requested -and got, believe it or not- representatives of his "enemies" (two German soldiers, as well as some others, iirc) at his 'send-off'. Not much, but it is something, and was apparently his idea, so makes it a wee bit better than the coverage in general would seem, no thanks to the powers that be.

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Aug 8 2009 23:04

Considering that a 'little man' like Harry Patch was swimming against the tide of the establishment wish to define 'history' (sorry if I seem to be 'obsessing' about funerals and memories, etc.), I think it was something of an achievement on his part to have that request of his adhered to...it means something, however small it may seem, and that 'meaning' almost certainly cost him 'top billing' on BBC news, as if that mattered to him ('just show business') or should matter to any of us.

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Ernie wrote:
No one is claiming he was a communist etc but a old soldier and plumber who had seen enough of war to know its was an extension of politics and had nothing to do with freedom.

I was going to add a smart alec comment about it being 'in his favour' that he wasn't 'claimed' by anyone (notwithstanding the undercurrent of this thread), and that he was 'just' an ordinary bloke (who did his best for over eighty years not to be remembered in a 'military' way), but the establishment have done their best to claim him, which does them no favours as anyone can tell who's lying about what (like Jingo Bastard, Sue Carroll, claiming he volunteered, like the economic conscripts in Afghanistan, when he absolutely avoided military service until it was forced on him), and he's a far more credible witness than any general, politician or journalist with an establishment agenda.