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Funeral Of Harry Patch

A personal account by Rodney Curtis, Chairman of The Royal British Legion Central Brittany Branch

Harry Patch, 17th June 1898 to 25th July 2009, was the last surviving man to fight in the trenches of the Great War.

On the August 6th I attended the funeral of Harry Patch in Wells Cathedral, Somerset, partly on behalf of our branch, and partly personally, as before leaving to live in Brittany, my family lived in the same area of Somerset.

This trip was made possible by the kind invitation and help of Robin White, Chairman of The Royal British Legion Wells Branch, and the assistance of LD Lines Ferries at Le Havre who, with the aid of Director Nadine Corbel gave me a very special price, and the crew on board made me very welcome indeed.


A packed congregation for the service


Harry Patch received full military honours

Harry Patch's cortege left Fletcher House at 11.30 arriving at the Cathedral at noon. The route was lined with many people and a number of Standards. Unfortunately I had already left when the last minute decision was made, or our Standard could have been there too. The hearse was flanked by two police riders on horse back, and followed by soldiers of the 1st Battalion The Rifles (Harry joined the 7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in 1916, which has now been amalgamated in to The Rifles). These soldiers were the coffin bearers and were followed by two soldiers from each of the armed forces of Belgium, France and Germany acting as Pall Bearers.

Harry's medals were carried by his great nephew, David Tucker. Harry had requested that his medals would be given to the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry Museum, so during the service these medals were presented to Lady Mary Holborow, President of the museum, by a representative of the French Government.

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and HRH The Duchess of Gloucester were in attendance.

The Hymns were: O God our help in ages past; Through all the changing scenes of life; and Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. At the end of the service the coffin was carried outside the west doors when the Last Post was sounded and Nick Fear, a close friend of Harry's, pronounced the Exhortation. The ceremony was closed by Nimrod played on the organ inside the Cathedral.

I felt very privileged to be present, representing us all.