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Great War veteran Harry Patch honoured in new edition of Dictionary of National Biography

By Paulwilts  |  Posted: January 04, 2013

Harry Patch

Harry Patch

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Bath-born First World War veteran Harry Patch has been honoured in a new edition of a guide to Britain’s most important people.

The unassuming onetime plumber is among 225 contemporary figures in the January 2013 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

He and the other two longest-lived survivors of the Great War, Henry Allingham and Bill Stone, join people as varied as football manager Sir Bobby Robson and Big Brother celebrity Jade Goody in the volume - reflecting the fact that they all died in the year 2009.

Mr Patch, who was born in Combe Down, died in July 2009, aged 111 - seven days after the death at the age of 113 of his fellow veteran Mr Allingham.

At the time, the First World War private who was injured at Passchendaele in 1917, was the oldest man not just in Britain but in Europe.

The Oxford DNB records that for 80 years, following his return from the Western Front, Mr Patch - who had been a fireman in Bath during the Second World War - had lived “an unremarkable life as a West Country plumber”, working in Bath, Bristol and Street.

It says: “Interest in the surviving veterans in the early 21st century brought him to public attention, though Patch was a reluctant representative of this wartime generation.

“Openly dismissive of national remembrance, Patch never lost an opportunity to condemn warfare, berate those who created conflict, and to remind audiences that all soldiers were victims.

“Patch’s own ‘remembrance day’ was not November 11, but September 22 - the day in 1917 when he was wounded and his ‘pals’ killed by an explosion.

“His funeral (which was broadcast live) reflected his belief that all those who fought in wars were victims. His coffin was borne by serving men from his old regiment, flanked by infantrymen from Belgium, France, and Germany - all of them unarmed on Harry Patch’s orders.”

That funeral took place at Wells Cathedral, followed by his burial at Monkton Combe, where his parents and brother are also buried.

The section on Mr Patch is written by Peter Parker, author of the 2009 book The Last Veteran: Harry Patch and the Legacy of War.

Oxford DNB editor Dr Lawrence Goldman said: “As the national record of those who’ve shaped British history, the Oxford DNB’s new edition allows us to reflect on some of the key developments in our recent past: discoveries in medicine and science, how we choose to entertain ourselves, who we read, and the nature of public commemorations. The biographies of the 225 men and women now added to Oxford DNB chart these changes through the people who shaped almost a century of our history - from the Western Front of the First World War to a television-inspired culture of instant celebrity.”

He said of Mr Patch and his fellow veterans: “We thought it was worth remembering what they had gone through, and indeed, marking an epoch in British history.”

The Oxford DNB is extended in three annual updates published every January, May, and September.

The Oxford DNB now includes 53,084 articles, in which are told the life stories of 58,552 people.

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