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Saturday 25 July 2009

Farewell Harry Patch, the Last Fighting Tommy

I was born quite a long time ago - in 1948.

When I were a lad the veterans of the Great War were friends, neighbours, even members of my own family, those extraordinary men and women were the backbone of society.

I remember F J Smith, MC., late Lieutenant Manchester Regiment, a work colleague of my father's, a true English gentleman. Our neighbour, Mr Atkins, who had an astonishing display of roses in his garden but who disappeared indoors each October until the spring when his gas scarred lungs came back to life. Mr Chapman, church warden, who waxed his moustaches and marched ramrod straight to work in a 'gentleman's outfitters' every morning. I remember terrible facial wounds and match selling amputees. Words first intruded into my life that chilled the unknowing child, I simply felt their power. Sanctuary Wood, Mametz, The Bazentins, Arras, Vimy, and the darkest of all - The Menin Road.

Grandfather's photo, Pte James Arthur Wilkinson, 16th Lancashire Fusiliers, died of wounds, 28/9 May 1918, hung at the head of my gran's bed and was an icon in my life from the day I was born until the day she died. The picture is now here, beside me, in my lounge.

In the 1980s I visited old men in Salford & Wigan who talked of mud and mamzels, oofs and Wipers. An amazing generation, a total privilege to have known them. They added value to my life.

And now it is ended, the last fighting Tommy has gone to join his Pals.

Thanks for everything, Harry. God Bless.

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