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The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, Last Veteran of the Trenches, 1898-2009

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On 17 June 2009, Harry Patch celebrated his 111th birthday. At the time, he was the last living British Tommy that had fought in the trenches of the First World War. Now that direct link with the past has gone. From his vivid memories of an Edwardian childhood, through the horrors of the battles of Ypres and Passchendaele to working on the home front in the Second World Wa On 17 June 2009, Harry Patch celebrated his 111th birthday. At the time, he was the last living British Tommy that had fought in the trenches of the First World War. Now that direct link with the past has gone. From his vivid memories of an Edwardian childhood, through the horrors of the battles of Ypres and Passchendaele to working on the home front in the Second World War and fame in later life as a veteran, The Last Fighting Tommy is the story of an ordinary man's extraordinary life. As we mark one hundred years since the beginning of the Great War, this powerful account of a life defined by those four devastating years remains as important and relevant as ever.


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On 17 June 2009, Harry Patch celebrated his 111th birthday. At the time, he was the last living British Tommy that had fought in the trenches of the First World War. Now that direct link with the past has gone. From his vivid memories of an Edwardian childhood, through the horrors of the battles of Ypres and Passchendaele to working on the home front in the Second World Wa On 17 June 2009, Harry Patch celebrated his 111th birthday. At the time, he was the last living British Tommy that had fought in the trenches of the First World War. Now that direct link with the past has gone. From his vivid memories of an Edwardian childhood, through the horrors of the battles of Ypres and Passchendaele to working on the home front in the Second World War and fame in later life as a veteran, The Last Fighting Tommy is the story of an ordinary man's extraordinary life. As we mark one hundred years since the beginning of the Great War, this powerful account of a life defined by those four devastating years remains as important and relevant as ever.

30 review for The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, Last Veteran of the Trenches, 1898-2009

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Harry Patch was the last surviving fighting soldier of the First World War. He died in 2009 at the age of 111. He lived a very ordinary life and didn’t talk about his wartime experiences until he reached 100. This is an autobiography put together by Richard van Emden from a series of tape recordings. Patch was quite a regular in documentaries and programmes about the war in the last ten years of his life. Patch was born in 1898 and the book takes us through his life; there is nothing sensational Harry Patch was the last surviving fighting soldier of the First World War. He died in 2009 at the age of 111. He lived a very ordinary life and didn’t talk about his wartime experiences until he reached 100. This is an autobiography put together by Richard van Emden from a series of tape recordings. Patch was quite a regular in documentaries and programmes about the war in the last ten years of his life. Patch was born in 1898 and the book takes us through his life; there is nothing sensational, it is an ordinary life with its ups and downs. Descriptions of a childhood in the Somerset countryside near Bath and teenage years as an apprentice plumber. Patch was called up and first saw action in 2017 at Ypres during the battle of Passchendaele. He was part of a Lewis Gunner unit, a group of six who all worked very closely together. Patch describes the awfulness of trench life and the experience of being under relentless shellfire. The inevitable happens and Patch’s team are hit by a shell. Three of his friends are killed instantly and Patch is hit in the stomach by a piece of shrapnel. It is worth remembering that the conditions in the medical facilities near the front were also very basic. Patch recalls that the doctor told him that they were going to remove the shrapnel without anaesthetic as they had run out. That was the end of the war for him. He also saw action of a sort in the second world war as a fire fighter as there was a period when Bath was bombed quite heavily and that held its own horrors. The rest of the book simply runs through his life at work and in retirement and finally the very busy last ten years of his life. There were lots of warm words about Patch from the establishment and the military, but I remember seeing him on TV and listening to him on the radio, against the backdrop of the Iraq war and Afghanistan. His words were not comfortable: “War is organised murder and nothing else” “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” “We are two civilised nations – British and German – and what were we doing? We were in a lousy, dirty trench fighting for our lives. For what? For eighteen pence a flipping day” “I was taken back to England to convalesce. When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle - thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Herr Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?” This stands in contrast with some of the hypocrisy shown after his death by the state. Patch had been offered a state funeral, but had declined it. He also didn’t mark Armistice Day, preferring to make his own remembrance on the anniversary of the death of his friends. He was taken to a few commemorations during the last years of his life. He was though capable of ignoring protocol as he did giving a speech at the Menin Gate: “Let us remember our brethren who fell - on both sides of the line.” It seems appropriate to finish with some of Owen’s more powerful lines: “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the frothcorrupted 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.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Revill

    I really enjoyed reading this book about Harry Patch the last Tommy the oldest surviving veteran of the trenches. Harry reached the age of 111 and I believe he wrote his memoirs at the age of 105 sharing his memories with all of us. Even though I was born years after the war I shall be forever grateful to men like Harry and it was a privilege to read about his life. This to me is real history, the history of an ordinary man who turned out to be anything but ordinary. God bless you Harry Patch.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kavita

    In university in France, I was waiting for a friend and exploring around. The one thing that really caught my attention was a memorial to the young men who had died in World War I. Their names, age, and year of death were listed. So young, and so many! So much potential lost! It was one of those eye-opening moments. I've not really wanted to read much about this period till now but I have remembered that memorial. Very clearly. Harry Patch was not among them. Well, for one, he was British, and fo In university in France, I was waiting for a friend and exploring around. The one thing that really caught my attention was a memorial to the young men who had died in World War I. Their names, age, and year of death were listed. So young, and so many! So much potential lost! It was one of those eye-opening moments. I've not really wanted to read much about this period till now but I have remembered that memorial. Very clearly. Harry Patch was not among them. Well, for one, he was British, and for another, he never went to university. But he was yet one amongst so many young men whose lives were changed forever by a senseless war. The last WWI veteran in Britain, Patch died in 2009 at the age of 111. The man had seen society change beyond belief, and two senseless worldwide wars. It's truly an experience, that! He was a serious young man who knew what he wanted from life. He was all set out to be a plumber and had enough backing from his well-to-do family to do so. In the middle of all his plans, the war happened. Patch did not really believe in going to war but he decided to do what everyone perceived as his duty. Let's be honest here. I would not have enjoyed this book if Patch had been one of those bloodthirsty young men who wanted to spend their lives targetting Germans. He had his head screwed on right and from beginning to end deplored war. In fact, he has some pretty radical ideas. "“I mean, why should I go out and kill somebody I never knew and for what reason? I wasn’t at all patriotic. I went and did what was asked of me and no more.” In fact, he even goes as far to come out with the best rebellion he can in the trenches. He refuses to kill! "The team was very close-knit and it had a pact. It was this: Bob said we wouldn't kill, not if we could help it. He said, 'We fire short, have them in the legs, or fire over their heads, but not to kill, not unless it's them or us'." I wonder how many soldiers decided to do this in war? Patch has the right ideas. "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 organising nothing better than legalised mass murder." Wow! You'd expect a 111 year old man to get it wrong, but he doesn't! War-thirsty youngsters, learn something! It's clear that Patch was extremely anti-war. But this book is not just about his wartime exploits. It covers his whole life - all 108 years of it (he died three years later). He talks about his wife, his sons, the small pleasures of his life, and many other things that have both the power of nostalgia and a peek into a different time. I have always loved stories by old people (as long as they are able to keep the sexism out). I remember the blissful days I would spend with my grandparents and listen to stories about their youth. I still like hearing about the old days from my grandmother and I really, really miss my grandfather, who passed away a couple of years ago. I think anyone who has passed the age of 80 would have an interesting book to write! If I have a complaint, it's that the actual writer, Richard van Emden, unnecessarily changes from first person to third person, inserting his own comments about Harry and his life. It got confusing in places and very irritating. I wanted more of Harry, not Richard. But other than this minor irritant, the book was very near perfect for me. It's a wonderful slice of life, and what a slice of life!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ian Russell

    The strength of this book lies in the ordinariness of its subject. History is full of hype, stories sold as block-busters, embellished beyond plausibility, myth usurping truth. Here is a sensitive man so humble he didn't want to tell his story to begin with. Only by pure accident, he becomes the single living connection to an unimaginable experience in another time, to coin L.P. Hartley, a place where they do things differently. So he's persuaded to tell his story; understated, honest, un-heroica The strength of this book lies in the ordinariness of its subject. History is full of hype, stories sold as block-busters, embellished beyond plausibility, myth usurping truth. Here is a sensitive man so humble he didn't want to tell his story to begin with. Only by pure accident, he becomes the single living connection to an unimaginable experience in another time, to coin L.P. Hartley, a place where they do things differently. So he's persuaded to tell his story; understated, honest, un-heroically. This isn't any sterile, historical analyst, or fantasist Hollywood screenwriter, this is the real thing and the antidote to all that. However, if you want sensationalism, look elsewhere. And it should be explained that it isn't all about the Great War. After all, Mr. Patch is 110, that's about 105 years longer than that war lasted.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gerry

    This book held a very interesting topic on the life of one Englishman who served his country well. Mr. Patch never wanted to be a soldier; but, when he was called upon he didn’t schlep his responsibility to the need of the time. Born at the end of the Victorian era; he was raised in an Edwardian time; a time that has long left us here in the 21st century and the England to which he was born, raised, and lived has long since become a different nation all together. Mr. Van Emden is an effective re This book held a very interesting topic on the life of one Englishman who served his country well. Mr. Patch never wanted to be a soldier; but, when he was called upon he didn’t schlep his responsibility to the need of the time. Born at the end of the Victorian era; he was raised in an Edwardian time; a time that has long left us here in the 21st century and the England to which he was born, raised, and lived has long since become a different nation all together. Mr. Van Emden is an effective researcher and I speculate a humble sort of interviewer in this book by rights of passages that are easily understandable. I fully appreciated the easy to read type in this book, and Mr. Van Emden’s ability to tie the story together through out. Mr. Harry Patch was quite the decent man and there are simply too many passages to call my “favorite”; however, near the end of the book Mr. Patch clearly told the author in reflection of his age and being the Last Fighting Tommy that “…my whole generation fought that war in the trenches…” Mr. Patch came to despise war and even after having two sons fight in the Second World War his disdain for war was met with the sorrow that comes with war. As the First World War was a personal touch for him and his injuries – so too the Second World War would leave the Patch family to some degree without loved ones. My interest in this book was based on the title of one British Soldier, one common ranked person who had to struggle during his time frame. I couldn’t have come across a better accounting of the time frame as a whole. The book, published in 2007 the topic and subject of Mr. Patch is born in 1898; Mr. patch would pass away in 2009 at the age 111 years young and his mental acuity intact for the age he became. The pre-war years of 1914 were quite an interesting read with occasional references to the time this was recorded for History in reflection to friends and family that were (then) in the stories of boyhood and long gone during the time of the research. Mr. Patch showed even in this late part of his life the recollections of childhood, boys getting into trouble, an education that was quite different. Before going into Military Service on behalf His Majesty and nation he earned his plumbing certification at 17.5 years of age. A skill that stayed with him for the remainder of his life serving his community and making an honest living for his family. Following the book, I finished on the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in “Merry Hell” by Captain Robert Clements (edited by Mr. Brian D. Tennyson) the dove tail effect of the battles that Mr. Patch and Captain Clements faced is rather an interesting verification of stories written. The Canadian Ross Rifle vs the British Lee-Enfield and the successful Lewis Machine Gun. Rum shots in the morning that burned going down but warmed one up were common to British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander troops. A touching part of this story on the battlefield is more telling when Mr. Patch wanted to stop and gain information on a British Soldier he passed before he himself was injured and the Soldier laying on the ground that he was passing enroute to battle was badly injured but still alive. As this young boy lay on the field dying and bleeding Mr. Patch could hear this lad making his last gasps of breath – taking those gasps the young man called out to his Mother, but called out to her in a manner to which she was “standing there” as opposed to “calling out for her” – Mr. Patch would never get over this experience; he wasn’t allowed to gather personal information on this boy as he wished so that he himself could have written a letter to his loved ones back in England. He would never watch a war movie nor did he later care for the entry to the Second World War. He was a man who wanted to live, experience, and share with others. This book isn’t just about war – it is about life – a life that crossed both World Wars. A life that saw many changes to his England and United Kingdom. May Mr. Harry Patch and the “Last Fighting Tommy” Rest in Peace – he lived over all a decent life; one that was committed to others.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Sadly Harry Patch died in July 2009 which prompted me to finally read this book that I purchased earlier in the year. Reading his memories of his life and anecdotes from those that knew him shows a truly wonderful man who cared about everyone around him. It's amazing what he could remember and that at the age of 108 (when he wrote the book) he had such a clarity of mind. I have to confess that at times I had tears in my eyes knowing that Harry had just passed on. If you want to read about a real Sadly Harry Patch died in July 2009 which prompted me to finally read this book that I purchased earlier in the year. Reading his memories of his life and anecdotes from those that knew him shows a truly wonderful man who cared about everyone around him. It's amazing what he could remember and that at the age of 108 (when he wrote the book) he had such a clarity of mind. I have to confess that at times I had tears in my eyes knowing that Harry had just passed on. If you want to read about a real hero then this is the book for you.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Val Penny

    I usually avoid books with more than one author. However, I was interested to read about Henry (Harry) Patch, an ordinary man who got coaught up in both World War I and lived through World War II. I found a book written about him just after his death. However, I then noticed The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, the Oldest Surviving Veteran of the Trenches. Harry Patch was the last British soldier alive to have fought in the trenches of the First World War. He was one of very few peo I usually avoid books with more than one author. However, I was interested to read about Henry (Harry) Patch, an ordinary man who got coaught up in both World War I and lived through World War II. I found a book written about him just after his death. However, I then noticed The Last Fighting Tommy: The Life of Harry Patch, the Oldest Surviving Veteran of the Trenches. Harry Patch was the last British soldier alive to have fought in the trenches of the First World War. He was one of very few people who could directly recall the horror of that conflict. The delightful thing about this book is that the chapters about Harry's life are by him. The historical chapters and historical background is provided by Richard van Emden who is a British author and television documentary producer. He specializes in the First World War. The personal account and a knowledgable historian, is a good combination. The strength of this book lies in the ordinariness of its subject. History is full of hype, stories sold as block-busters, embellished beyond plausibility, myth usurping truth. Not so thoughout The Last Fighting Tommy. Harry was born in 1898, during the reign of Queen Victoria and a year before my maternal grandmother. His childhood was spent in the Somerset countryside of Edwardian England. He left school in 1913 to become an apprentice plumber but three years later was conscripted, serving as a machine gunner in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. Harry Patch comes across as a sensitive, humble man. Apparently he did not want to tell his story. However, by pure accident, he became the single living connection to an unimaginable experience in another time: life in the World War I trenches. He was persuaded to tell his story; understated, honest, un-heroically. He describes life in the mud and trenches during the Battle of Passchendaele. He saw a great many of his comrades die, and in one dreadful moment the shell that wounded him also killed his three closest friends. In vivid detail he describes daily life in the trenches, the terror of being under intense artillery fire, and the fear of going over the top. A large part of the book covers Harry's experiences in World War I as he was forced to give up on his career and go to fight. The chapter about when he went over the top is mesmerising as it captures one man's experience of the horrors of the war, rather than an overview that we usually get. Then, after the Armistice he explains the soldiers' frustration at not being quickly demobbed. This led to a mutiny in which even Harry was caught up. The Last Fighting Tommy is not a history book, it is a book about one man's experiences of history, although the co-author, Richard van Emden does provide relevant historical detail and background. Harry shared with the reader about his whole life without boring them with every little detail: he revealed what he thought would be most interesting and it works really well. There is a great section on World War II where Harry describes being a firefighter and dealing with the aftermath of the bombings on Bath. World War II saw Harry in action on the home front as a fire-fighter during the bombing of Bath. He also warmly described his friendship with American GIs preparing to go to France, and, years later, his tears when he saw their graves. Late in life Harry achieved fame, meeting the Queen and taking part in the BBC documentary The Last Tommies, finally shaking hands with a German veteran of the artillery and speaking out frankly to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair about the soldiers shot for cowardice in the First World War. This was a well-done book which told the life of an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary things. On the one hand it is history told through the eyes of someone who was there, whilst on the other hand he represents all the men who fought in the trenches. I found The Last Fighting Tommy a fascinating read and highly recommend it to all who enjoy history and biographies. Valerie Penny

  8. 4 out of 5

    John Anthony

    I should have read this alongside Wilfred Owen’s poems. Harry expresses some of Owen’s sentiments in his own words. Of course this is a particularly topical read at the moment with the centenary of the ending of WW1 fast approaching. It is an insightful read and Harry’s relatively privileged Edwardian childhood contrasts starkly with the horrors that awaited him in northern France and Belgium as a very young man. Richard van Emden provides a commentary throughout, which links in well with Harry’s I should have read this alongside Wilfred Owen’s poems. Harry expresses some of Owen’s sentiments in his own words. Of course this is a particularly topical read at the moment with the centenary of the ending of WW1 fast approaching. It is an insightful read and Harry’s relatively privileged Edwardian childhood contrasts starkly with the horrors that awaited him in northern France and Belgium as a very young man. Richard van Emden provides a commentary throughout, which links in well with Harry’s recollections. This is especially useful when talking of specific battles and events leading up to them. Harry epitomises for me the best of Britishness and makes me proud of being a Brit if it means being considered, even remotely, alongside Harry and his generation: that quiet, stoic, no-nonsense Britishness which hates injustice. Reading this, I experienced alternately pride and humility at what Harry and his generation achieved and what we have taken for granted for a very long time. In little over 20 years he would have to go through it all again with two young sons of fighting age on the advent of WW2. Like Owen, he rightly questions the purpose of all the lives sacrificed. Like many of his generation Harry preferred not to talk about his war experiences until the end of his life. I can relate to that on a personal level: I had a great uncle who fought in WW1 and survived it. He would never speak of it until the last 3 months of his life when dying in hospitalas his 96th birthday approached. He told me several times when visiting him to “get down! Can’t you see they’re firing?” I’m pleased Harry was finally persuaded to share his story with us evoking for me at any rate, feelings of pride, humility and a dread of it happening all over again. But then, I’m just an ordinary bloke, like all those who provided the cannon fodder between 1914 and 1918 and beyond for the Masters of War.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    The Last Fighting Tommy tells the story of Harry Patch, the longest surviving veteran of the trenches. 2014 marks 100 years since the start of World War I so I thought now would be a good time to read this book that has been sat on my shelf for years and years. Harry Patch died in 2009, aged 111, and given that the book was published in 2007 it does cover the vast majority of his long life. As one would expect a fair chunk of the book covers Harry's experiences in World War I as he was forced to The Last Fighting Tommy tells the story of Harry Patch, the longest surviving veteran of the trenches. 2014 marks 100 years since the start of World War I so I thought now would be a good time to read this book that has been sat on my shelf for years and years. Harry Patch died in 2009, aged 111, and given that the book was published in 2007 it does cover the vast majority of his long life. As one would expect a fair chunk of the book covers Harry's experiences in World War I as he was forced to give up on his career and go and fight. The chapter about when he went over the top is mesmerising as it captures one man's experience of the horrors of the war, rather than an overview that we usually get. I think at times the man behind the project, Richard Van Emden, lost track of the purpose of the book and his sections go far too much into the detailed history than is needed. This is not a history book, it is a book about one man's experiences of history. I did think this job did a good job pretty reasonable job of covering most of Harry's life rather than just the four months he spent in the trenches. Harry told us about his whole life without boring us with every little detail- he shared what he thought would be most interesting and it works really well. There is a great section on World War II where Harry describes being a firefighter and dealing with the aftermath of the bombings on Bath. This was a well-done book which told the life of an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary things. On the one hand it is history told through the eyes of someone who was there, whilst on the other hand he represents all the men who fought in the trenches. A fascinating read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Felix Castro

    a delightful short book detailing the life of Henry Patch the last surviving British soldier to have fight in the trenches of the Great War. It is interesting to read the memoir of a man who knows he is the last survivor of his generation, and while not fully comfortable with that role, embraces it and becomes the everyman to represent all his brethren who came before him. After reading the book I have had thoughts myself what it will he like once my generation's veterans begin to dwindle. Defin a delightful short book detailing the life of Henry Patch the last surviving British soldier to have fight in the trenches of the Great War. It is interesting to read the memoir of a man who knows he is the last survivor of his generation, and while not fully comfortable with that role, embraces it and becomes the everyman to represent all his brethren who came before him. After reading the book I have had thoughts myself what it will he like once my generation's veterans begin to dwindle. Definitely a worthwhile read for those interested in the study of World War I.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Soeziegoezie

    "I know the first time I went to the line we were scared; we were all scared. We lived hour by hour, we never knew the future. You saw the sun rise, hopefully you'd see it set. If you saw it set, you hoped you'd see it rise. Some men would, some men wouldn't." Some so called world leaders should read this book and realize that war leads to absolutely nothing. The story of Harry Patch and all his fellow soldiers should never be forgotten. "I know the first time I went to the line we were scared; we were all scared. We lived hour by hour, we never knew the future. You saw the sun rise, hopefully you'd see it set. If you saw it set, you hoped you'd see it rise. Some men would, some men wouldn't." Some so called world leaders should read this book and realize that war leads to absolutely nothing. The story of Harry Patch and all his fellow soldiers should never be forgotten.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Robert Rouse

    Great read about a great man

  13. 5 out of 5

    John Ollerton

    Great, a time capsule

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ruby Boyer

    What an emotional,eye-opening book. I loved every page. It really makes it stand out that just because the war was declared over, it wasn't for the soldiers who went onto the battlefield. What an emotional,eye-opening book. I loved every page. It really makes it stand out that just because the war was declared over, it wasn't for the soldiers who went onto the battlefield.

  15. 4 out of 5

    John Naylor

    It is impossible for this not to get a 5 star review from me. I am writing this just over ten years since Harry Patch passed away but his story is also one that needs to be told. He outlived three wives and both his sons. He also outlived every one of the people that he knew in his youth. His story was one of loss. There is an extraordinary amount of detail about his life in this book. Considering the didn't start to tell his story until a century after it started. What is also interesting is that It is impossible for this not to get a 5 star review from me. I am writing this just over ten years since Harry Patch passed away but his story is also one that needs to be told. He outlived three wives and both his sons. He also outlived every one of the people that he knew in his youth. His story was one of loss. There is an extraordinary amount of detail about his life in this book. Considering the didn't start to tell his story until a century after it started. What is also interesting is that his time in the First World War is not the only story here. I think the author did a great job of balancing out the events of Harry's life. The author does add to the story in places. Sets the scene with information that Harry could not have known. This does help the narrative flow. This is an important book to have been published. Harry truly was one of a kind. His thoughts on the war are not those you would see repeated on recruitment posters. This makes his views all the more necessary in this world. I definitely recommend this to anyone. It is possibly the best biography I have read and definitely the one where the subject had the most involvement. Thank you, Harry.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Graham

    An excellent autobiography of Harry Patch, the gentleman who became well known at the turn of the millennium for being Britain's last surviving Tommy who fought in the First World War. Patch has narrated his life story to author Richard Van Emden, who has in turn crafted into a short, readable account that's full of pathos and rich with detail of life in the 20th century. The actual war content only occupies around half of the book and it's as moving and tragic as you'd expect, written with that An excellent autobiography of Harry Patch, the gentleman who became well known at the turn of the millennium for being Britain's last surviving Tommy who fought in the First World War. Patch has narrated his life story to author Richard Van Emden, who has in turn crafted into a short, readable account that's full of pathos and rich with detail of life in the 20th century. The actual war content only occupies around half of the book and it's as moving and tragic as you'd expect, written with that ring of authenticity from someone who was really there. What comes as a surprise is that the non-war aspects of Harry's life are just as interesting as his soldierly accounts, particularly his work as a plumber. It's engaging stuff, and effortlessly quick to read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    A remembered I’d read book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ian Hallam

    The story of Harry Patch (1898- 2009) who became the last fighting tommy from the trenches of WW1.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cerian

    INCREDIBLE!!! As he realized, he was fortunate to survive the slaughter that took away so many of his comrades at such famously awful battles as Ypres and Passchendaele. “I don’t know why I’m here at all,” he would remark with a sense of wonder that never went away during the more than 90 - count them - years that elapsed between his return to civilian life at the end of the war in 1918 and his death in 2009. Like so many of his brave generation with their stiffer than stiff upper lips and iron i INCREDIBLE!!! As he realized, he was fortunate to survive the slaughter that took away so many of his comrades at such famously awful battles as Ypres and Passchendaele. “I don’t know why I’m here at all,” he would remark with a sense of wonder that never went away during the more than 90 - count them - years that elapsed between his return to civilian life at the end of the war in 1918 and his death in 2009. Like so many of his brave generation with their stiffer than stiff upper lips and iron in their character, he seldom if ever spoke of his experiences in the mud and filth, rats, lice and blood of the trenches, never mentioning anything about them at all to his wife during a half-century-long marriage. Anyone who tells you that in the trenches they weren’t scared, he’s a damned liar: you were scared all the time. … Front-line service wore the men down. I would get a butterfly in my stomach and my hands would shake, so for a moment or two I would have a job to coordinate my nerves to do anything. You couldn’t deal with the fear and apprehension we had about being hit by shrapnel. It was there and it always would be. … Word would come down, perhaps one of your mates had been wounded or killed. … That always made you think, ‘How long is it before I get hit?’ Not if, but when.” There was a standing joke that if you were out there long enough you could tell the difference in taste as to whether the water came in a British Petroleum or Shell can.” Harry Patch’s concern for others less lucky than himself as well as his own bravery made his a life as well-lived as it was long, and we are fortunate to have the firsthand testimony of this admirable man.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    This fairly short book tells of the life of Harry Patch, described on the cover as “the only surviving veteran of the trenches”, but this is certainly not a book solely about war. Harry Patch was born in June 1898, towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, and during his lifetime, the world changed incredibly quickly. For me, the social history of the late 19th century, stretching through to the end of the 20th century and beyond, is one of the most interesting aspects of this book. Changes in This fairly short book tells of the life of Harry Patch, described on the cover as “the only surviving veteran of the trenches”, but this is certainly not a book solely about war. Harry Patch was born in June 1898, towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, and during his lifetime, the world changed incredibly quickly. For me, the social history of the late 19th century, stretching through to the end of the 20th century and beyond, is one of the most interesting aspects of this book. Changes in customs and manners, as well as in technology, created a world that was very different towards the end of Harry’s life than that at the beginning. As Harry Patch was so old, his words had been recorded and then transcribed by Richard Van Emden. Much of the story is told in Harry’s words, with insertions by Van Emden which give historical background, especially during the years of World War 1. This was a technique that I think worked very well. The book flowed well and the insertions helped to create an accurate context for Harry’s memories. I was struck by the honesty of the book. Harry Patch makes no secret of the fact that he didn’t want to go to war in 1914; in fact, he was not one of those young men who lied about their age because they were desperate to see action in Europe. He wanted to continue with his apprenticeship as a plumber and it wasn’t until he was “called up” that he joined the army and was eventually sent to the trenches which stretched across much of the Western Front. He became part of a small team of five men who manned a Lewis gun. Although he didn’t like army life, he did appreciate the men who made up this team and he describes their support for each other in a moving way. I imagine that people who are interested in 20th century warfare will appreciate the book, but for me, the big message that I found is that life - just ordinary, every day living - is not easy or particularly fair for many people. However, Harry survived not only two World Wars, but over a century of every day living - by hard work, loyal relationships and a flexibility of outlook. I’m glad that I read “The Last Fighting Tommy.”

  21. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    The Last Fighting Tommy is an interesting book about a remarkable man, Harry Patch. Harry was the last remaining British soldier to survive the Western front. He passed away in July 2009, aged 111 years old. Over 90 years ago, he was sent to fight in the mud and blood of Passchendale. That Harry managed to live so long seems particularly incredible when you read that he had an 2 inch lump of white hot shrapnel blasted into his guts. Meamwhile, all around him his comrades were being blown up. This The Last Fighting Tommy is an interesting book about a remarkable man, Harry Patch. Harry was the last remaining British soldier to survive the Western front. He passed away in July 2009, aged 111 years old. Over 90 years ago, he was sent to fight in the mud and blood of Passchendale. That Harry managed to live so long seems particularly incredible when you read that he had an 2 inch lump of white hot shrapnel blasted into his guts. Meamwhile, all around him his comrades were being blown up. This book is more than another account on WW1 trench life, this is Harry's story. There are no heroes or cowards, there is no patriotism and little bitterness. This is one mans story of how he did his duty and how awful it was. The strong message that this story carries throughout is purely and simply of the futility of war. The heartbreaking passages about his doomed Lewis gun crew, and how they found deep friendship and comradeship are beautifully told. We also hear about his early days in rural Somerset, his long and distinguished years as a master plumber/engineer, and his family life with its ups and some very big downs. Author Richard Van Emden worked meticulously with Harry to produce a very moving account of Harry's life, including the hellish conflict of 1917.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Eli Castro

    The man that lives to pass the age of 100 and who knows of his current status this man is no original old mann hes a special man who lived through some of the most historic times. Shure he wasnt a Star but who is? I liked this story cause it seemed realistic maybe a little bit of lies but you never know but it seemed like an honest story. This book was one of those books that are a little slow in the beginings Harry Patch explains his childhood and family members and things about them, but it The man that lives to pass the age of 100 and who knows of his current status this man is no original old mann hes a special man who lived through some of the most historic times. Shure he wasnt a Star but who is? I liked this story cause it seemed realistic maybe a little bit of lies but you never know but it seemed like an honest story. This book was one of those books that are a little slow in the beginings Harry Patch explains his childhood and family members and things about them, but it gives a layout of the story the more you get into it. Harry Patch explains his story vivdly from young childhood to the sad times. This is a very beutifully written story the writting sparks my imagination and i can imagine the events in the story but i cant say i understood it because the way he expresses what he goes through you can only imagine. Im 14 :) but im starting to read alot when on trips tend to have alot of freetime but i would say this would be a good book for kids around my age not alot of vulgar and nothing sexual. Add me if you like my reviews i mainly read war novels so if you find this one helpful you will find more to come by me:)

  23. 5 out of 5

    John

    Harry Patch is 109 years [110 in June]. He is the oldest surviving man who saw combat in World War 1. Harry didn't want to fight[he'd trained a a plumber] but still did his duty in the horror of the trenches - fighting at the famous Battle of Passchendaele. This book takes you on an historical journey through the life of an ordinary man who, as time has moved on taking his contemporaries one-by-one, has become extraordinary. By default he has outlived his comrades and his enemies and many of his l Harry Patch is 109 years [110 in June]. He is the oldest surviving man who saw combat in World War 1. Harry didn't want to fight[he'd trained a a plumber] but still did his duty in the horror of the trenches - fighting at the famous Battle of Passchendaele. This book takes you on an historical journey through the life of an ordinary man who, as time has moved on taking his contemporaries one-by-one, has become extraordinary. By default he has outlived his comrades and his enemies and many of his loved ones. Whilst uplifting the book is also tinged with a certain sadness. The book is part historical narrative and part simpl-conversational style. It is a very easy read the sort of book that should be given to all children to read... and many adults too. It may teach people a great deal about social history, you never know it might even teach tem a thing about respect too. God bless you, Harry Patch.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jeane

    Harry Patch lived during both World Wars and was actively involved at the Western Front during the first war. He was the last surviving Tommy and fortunately for us his story has been written down. The humor and seriousness with which he tells his story in the village of Bath, where he grew up, how the villege prepared for war and how he went to war. His life with his first wife and after that are hard to read, while some of his anecdotes make you laugh too. When I was reading his story, I wanted t Harry Patch lived during both World Wars and was actively involved at the Western Front during the first war. He was the last surviving Tommy and fortunately for us his story has been written down. The humor and seriousness with which he tells his story in the village of Bath, where he grew up, how the villege prepared for war and how he went to war. His life with his first wife and after that are hard to read, while some of his anecdotes make you laugh too. When I was reading his story, I wanted to thank him for his help during the war in my region in Belgium. As it was for him hard to go back to Ypers, Poperinge, .... aroud 2000 and see the places where he fought in the trenches, visiting the graves of thousands of people who fought and died there...it was hard for me to read it sometimes. Harry Patch sound like he was a really nice person, somebody I am sure I would have having known.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    What's fascinating about this dictated autobiography of the last living British veteran of the trenches of World War I is how little time he actually spent in the war. As of the writing, Harry Patch was 108 years old. His time spent fighting, before being wounded and shipped back to England, totaled little more than four months. Rather, his longevity and his ease in front of the camera brought fame in his later years. The war was something that happened to him and to everyone else. War is someth What's fascinating about this dictated autobiography of the last living British veteran of the trenches of World War I is how little time he actually spent in the war. As of the writing, Harry Patch was 108 years old. His time spent fighting, before being wounded and shipped back to England, totaled little more than four months. Rather, his longevity and his ease in front of the camera brought fame in his later years. The war was something that happened to him and to everyone else. War is something that Patch speaks against in his remembrances, its pointlessness and waste. The darkness of the trenches stands starkly against the near idyllic and pleasant Edwardian childhood he describes in the opening chapters. This is an interesting book for those interested not only in the Great War, but those interested in the everyday and the personal.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Harry Patch was something of a local celebrity. And hardly surprising really. He was born and brought up in Combe Down in Bath, so the book is littered with local references, which made it all the more enjoyable for me. Rather than just tell of Harry’s experiences in WW1, the book is his history from the day he was born (in 1898) until 2007. He lived through two wars and lived through three centuries. It’s humbling to think of that. Harry was present at the service of Remembrance at the Royal Albe Harry Patch was something of a local celebrity. And hardly surprising really. He was born and brought up in Combe Down in Bath, so the book is littered with local references, which made it all the more enjoyable for me. Rather than just tell of Harry’s experiences in WW1, the book is his history from the day he was born (in 1898) until 2007. He lived through two wars and lived through three centuries. It’s humbling to think of that. Harry was present at the service of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2007. According to our local paper, he was going to spend the following day (Remembrance Day) in quiet reflection at his nursing home in Wells - and who can blame him. I really enjoyed the book (aside a few spelling mistakes for place-names, which the co-author could have checked out really easily. Harry’s book deserves better). Harry is a legend.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gareth Powell

    A great read with some lovely humour too. Very moving and inspiring because he was, like most Western Front veterans, just an ordinary man who served his country in an extraordinary way. Two aspects of his life geographically struck me. Firstly, his home village was just a few miles from my maternal grandfather's ancestral home a generation or so earlier. Secondly, my paternal Grandfather also served on the Western Front in the 38th Welsh Division. Harry's 20th Division & the 38th relieved each A great read with some lovely humour too. Very moving and inspiring because he was, like most Western Front veterans, just an ordinary man who served his country in an extraordinary way. Two aspects of his life geographically struck me. Firstly, his home village was just a few miles from my maternal grandfather's ancestral home a generation or so earlier. Secondly, my paternal Grandfather also served on the Western Front in the 38th Welsh Division. Harry's 20th Division & the 38th relieved each other at Pilckem Ridge and Langemark and fought on the same section of ground at the start of Passchendaele. So some things he witnessed would have been experienced by my Grandfather too.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    I'm pretty sure I've never read a book written by someone quite so old. Harry Patch was around 105 at the time of writing this autobiographical piece and it makes a good story. He's an ordinary man who grew up around Combe Down near Bath, but ended up in the Trenches at Ypres and then manning the firetrucks during the second world war. I really enjoyed learning about my local area in the early 1900s and finding out what shenanigans young people got up to in those days. Harry's insight into his f I'm pretty sure I've never read a book written by someone quite so old. Harry Patch was around 105 at the time of writing this autobiographical piece and it makes a good story. He's an ordinary man who grew up around Combe Down near Bath, but ended up in the Trenches at Ypres and then manning the firetrucks during the second world war. I really enjoyed learning about my local area in the early 1900s and finding out what shenanigans young people got up to in those days. Harry's insight into his feelings and emotions surrounding war and conflict generally are hugely powerful for such a seemingly reserved individual. What an incredible life.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

    A wonderful book for those with a knowledge of the Bath area and an interest in the Great War. Harry Petch came from Combe Down in Bath and as a teenager was wounded at Passchendaele. His family was relatively prosperous and he had a good life as a plumber. He was in the AFS in the Second World War experiencing the Bath Blitz when 400 people died in a Baedeker Raid. It wasnt till he got to a hundred that he started talking about his experiences in the Great War and he became a national figure po A wonderful book for those with a knowledge of the Bath area and an interest in the Great War. Harry Petch came from Combe Down in Bath and as a teenager was wounded at Passchendaele. His family was relatively prosperous and he had a good life as a plumber. He was in the AFS in the Second World War experiencing the Bath Blitz when 400 people died in a Baedeker Raid. It wasnt till he got to a hundred that he started talking about his experiences in the Great War and he became a national figure portrayed on TV and in poetry. He died aged 111 this year.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bev Walkling

    This book tells the Story of Harry Patch, last surviving British soldier who fought in the trenches during the Great War. It is more than a war story as it begins with his childhood growing up near Bath, England. The book was published when he was 108 years old and is remarkable in the detail for one of such an age. His co-author, blends the historical details of the times smoothly in to Harry's retelling of his memories. He died at the age of 109 having chosen to forego any pomp and circumstanc This book tells the Story of Harry Patch, last surviving British soldier who fought in the trenches during the Great War. It is more than a war story as it begins with his childhood growing up near Bath, England. The book was published when he was 108 years old and is remarkable in the detail for one of such an age. His co-author, blends the historical details of the times smoothly in to Harry's retelling of his memories. He died at the age of 109 having chosen to forego any pomp and circumstance in his burial as the longest surviving Tommy.

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