Page last updated at 19:07 GMT, Saturday, 25 July 2009 20:07 UK

WWI veteran Patch dies aged 111

Harry Patch
Harry Patch fought at the Battle of Passchendaele in World War I

The last British survivor of the World War I trenches, Harry Patch, has died at the age of 111.

Mr Patch was conscripted into the Army aged 18 and fought in the Battle of Passchendaele at Ypres in 1917 in which more than 70,000 British soldiers died.

He was raised in Combe Down, near Bath, and had been living at a care home in Wells, Somerset.

The sole British survivor of the war is former seaman Claude Choules, who is aged 108 and lives in Perth, Australia.

'Great man'

Mr Choules, who is originally from Worcestershire, saw service with the Royal Navy.

Henry Allingham, who served in the navy and the RAF in WWI, died at the age of 113 a week ago.

The Queen said she was "saddened" to hear of Mr Patch's death.

Gordon Brown: ''This is the last of a generation of heroes''

"We will never forget the bravery and enormous sacrifice of his generation, which will continue to serve as an example to us all."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "I had the honour of meeting Harry, and I share his family's grief at the passing of a great man.

"I know that the whole nation will unite today to honour the memory, and to take pride in the generation that fought the Great War. The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten."

A national memorial service should be held as "a special commemoration" of the efforts of Mr Patch and "a generation of people" who fought in World War I, Mr Brown added.

'Remained loyal'

The Prince of Wales said nothing could give him greater pride than paying tribute to Mr Patch.

He told the BBC: "Harry was involved in numerous bouts of heavy fighting on the front line but amazingly remained unscathed for a while.

John Babcock, who turned 109 on 23 July, was with Canada's Boys Battalion in England but the war ended before he turned 18 and could go to the front
Frank Buckles, 108, joined the American army aged just 16 and was held in reserve in England from December 1917. After six months he was sent to France but never saw action on the frontline
Claude Choules, 108, served with the Royal Navy during World War I. Originally from Worcestershire, he now lives in Perth, Australia

"Tragically one night in September 1917 when in the morass in the Ypres Salient a German shrapnel shell burst overhead badly wounding Harry and killing three of his closest friends.

"In spite of the comparatively short time that he served with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, Harry always cherished the extraordinary camaraderie that the appalling conditions engendered in the battalion and remained loyal to the end."

Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said: "He was the last of a generation that in youth was steadfast in its duty in the face of cruel sacrifice and we give thanks for his life - as well as those of his comrades - for upholding the same values and freedom that we continue to cherish and fight for today."

Conservative leader David Cameron said: "The passing of our last surviving WWI soldier marks the end of an era and is a reminder of the huge debt of gratitude we owe Harry and those he served alongside."

'Last of generation'

Mr Patch was born on 17 June 1898 and left school at the age of 15 to train as a plumber.

He was a machine-gunner in the trenches and served as a private from June to September 1917.

Prince Charles spoke of the terrible conditions faced by soldiers during WWI

Mr Patch was at the time of his death the oldest man in Europe and the third oldest man in the world, according to the Ministry of Defence.

He was married twice, first in 1919 in Hadley, Shropshire, to Ada which lasted 60 years, and then to Jean when he was 81. He had two sons with Ada, Dennis and Roy, both of whom he outlived.

From 2003 he had a third partner, Doris, who lived in the same retirement home and died two years ago.

He will symbolise the thousands of lives lost in Britain alone during World War I
Martin Harrison, Coventry

His biographer Richard Van Emden said Mr Patch "had a sparkle about him" and was "one of the most rewarding people to be with".

"He was the last of that generation and the poignancy of that is almost overwhelming. He remembered all of those who died and suffered and every time he was honoured he knew it was for all of those who fought," he said.

'True gentleman'

Mr Patch's friend Lesley Ross said she felt great affection towards him.

The battle lasted from 31 July to 6 November 1917
An initial bombardment of German positions involved 4.5m shells and 3,000 guns
The battle was infamous for the mud - shelling had churned clay soil and smashed drains
The heaviest rain for 30 years made the mud so deep that men and horses drowned
The battle ended when British and Canadian forces captured Passchendaele
The village was barely five miles beyond the starting point of the offensive
There were a total of 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties

"Extremely modest, dignified gentleman, with a slightly wicked sense of humour and considerate to everybody he met. Very polite and I would sum him up as a true gentleman," she said.

The Ministry of Defence said there would be a funeral cortege through Wells followed by a service at Wells Cathedral.

The Fletcher House care home said in a statement it extended its deepest sympathies to Mr Patch's family and friends.

Andrew Larpent, chief executive of Somerset Care, said Mr Patch died peacefully in his bed having been unwell for some time.

"His friends and his family have been here. He just quietly slipped away at 9am this morning," he said.

"It was how he would have wanted it, without having to be moved to hospitals but here, peacefully with his friends and carers."

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