If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The last Great War soldier

The funeral of Harry Patch. I find this incredibly moving.

It had been a specific request of Mr Patch, who was buried today after a memorial service at Wells Cathedral in Somerset, that his coffin should be carried by men who were the same age as he was when he fought in the trenches of the First World War.

But as the last surviving British veteran of the Great War was laid to rest, the message was not of military honour, or glory, but of peace and reconciliation, the cause to which he devoted his last years.

For the passing of an old soldier – the Last Fighting Tommy, as the title of his memoir put it – there were always going to be the timeless rituals of military ceremony: the buglers sounding the Last Post, the medals, the salutes.

But there were other touches, too, that spoke of Mr Patch’s earnest belief that fighting can never be the right way to solve disputes. During the service a chorister sang the 1960s peace anthem, Where Have All The Flowers Gone: the order of service said that the song had been chosen by his grandson “to reflect Harry’s view of the futility of war”.

Equally symbolically, the coffin was escorted by six other pallbearers, including two soldiers from the German army. Dr Eckhard Wilhelm Lubkemeier, charge d’affaires of the German Embassy, who read a lesson from the Bible at the service, said: “We really appreciate the generous gesture on the part of Harry Patch because he explicitly wanted his former enemy to be represented at his funeral service.

“It is a great honour for us and we really appreciate the opportunity of being here and honouring a great man.”

A fine and noble ending to a life. Nuff said.

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