Henry John “Harry” Patch (17 June 1898 – 25 July 2009)

Chris Neal commemorates Harry Patch, who understood the human cost of violent conflict, asking, ‘What must Patch have thought about the loss of life on our streets through knife crime? Young men carrying knives claiming that they only do so to protect themselves, will they heed the words of Harry Patch that no confrontation is “worth one life”?’

Harry Patch, an apprentice plumber, was conscripted aged 18 into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and taught how to fire a Lewis Gun. He must have been taught well — as evidenced in the documentary ‘World War One in Colour’ — when coming face to face with a German Soldier he recalled Moses descending from Mount Sinai with God’s commandment, ‘thou shalt not kill’, and couldn’t kill the German. Instead, he shot him in the shoulder, which made him drop his rifle. The German kept running towards Patch’s Lewis Gun, he then shot him above the knee then the ankle. Patch exhibited remarkable clarity of thought in this intense encounter and said of the incident “I had about five seconds to make the decision. I brought him down, but I didn’t kill him.”

Patch himself was injured in the groin from an exploding shell on 22 September 1917 which claimed the lives of three of his friends and comrades. Patch referred to 22 September as his personal Remembrance Day describing the 11th November Act of Remembrance as “just show business”. He kept silent about the War for eighty years only breaking his silence in 1998 for the BBC documentary “Veterans”. He was an ordinary man whose ordinary life was made extraordinary by his longevity and his message of peace.

Before Prime Ministers Questions each week we hear the PM and Opposition leaders name and pay tribute to our brave soldiers giving their lives in Afghanistan or Iraq. Can you imagine a list of names that grew by three thousand a day? Harry Patch fought in Passchendaele where there were around 250,000 British Casualties. He witnessed first hand a loss of life that brings a cold perspective to the cost of war.

British forces evacuated an Iraqi civilian casualty. This man died.

British forces evacuate an Iraqi civilian casualty. This man died.

“Too many died. War isn’t worth one life,” said Mr Patch.

He said war was the “calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings”.

“The Germans suffered the same as we did,” he said.

He understood the human cost, what must then he have thought about the loss of life on our streets through knife crime? Young men carrying knives claiming that they only do so to protect themselves, will they heed the words of Harry Patch that no confrontation is “worth one life”?

Whether the conflict is caused by a lad straying onto another gang’s turf, a nation wishing to impose its will on another, or federalists stealthily emasculating the sovereignty and liberty of member states, Harry’s message is to be heeded.

Richard Cobden (1804-1865) had it right when he said “Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less”.

Rather than seeking to control one another, we should engage. By encouraging free trade and honest money, we will see peace and social progress.

Harry Patch spent the last eleven years of his remarkable life building bridges of peace throughout Europe, being honoured by those he met and honouring fallen comrades and foes.

Let us seek to perpetuate his memory by continuing to foster friendships. We believe in free trade as a way to develop these friendships: The Cobden Centre will commemorate Harry Patch’s Remembrance Day each 22nd September with a dinner dedicated to free trade and peace.

Do contact us if you would like to attend.