Harry Patch died a little over a week ago. At 111 he was the last British veteran of World War I. No French or German participants in that horrid war survive. Only one American participant still lives–Frances Buckles, age 108, who drove an ambulance during the war.
World War I is largely ignored in America, but it seared Europe in particular, as well as other participants, such as Australia and New Zealand, onetime British colonies which sent off soldiers to die for their parent nation. Although less bloody than World War II, the first conflict set the stage for the second, far more murderous contest, as well as the Cold War that followed.
World War I, once called the war to end war, was foolish and stupid for all participants. Nothing was at stake that warranted a death toll which approached 20 million. On top were even more injured and maimed, economic collapse, and political chaos, leading to the rise of fascism, Nazism, and communism.
Harry Patch understood that he had been deployed in a mistaken crusade. Reports the Washington Times:
Mr. Patch did not speak about his war experiences until he was 100. Once he did, he was adamant that the slaughter he witnessed had not been justified.
“I met someone from the German side, and we both shared the same opinion: We fought, we finished and we were friends,” he said in 2007.
“It wasn’t worth it.”
War sometimes is necessary. But as Robert E. Lee intoned while looking down on the impressive military tableau at the battle of Fredericksburg, “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.”
Harry Patch certainly understood. According to the Times:
His most vivid memory of the war was of encountering a comrade whose torso had been ripped open by shrapnel. “Shoot me,” Mr. Patch recalled the soldier pleading.
The man died before Patch could draw his revolver.
“I was with him for the last 60 seconds of his life. He gasped one word — ‘Mother.’ That one word has run through my brain for 88 years. I will never forget it.”