Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Sunday, 26 July 2009 11:49 UK

Service planned for WWI sacrifice

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

The sacrifices of the World War I generation are to be commemorated in a special national service, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said.

It is likely to be held at Westminster Abbey and will be attended by the prime minister, Downing Street said. The Queen is also expected to attend.

The announcement comes after the death of Harry Patch, the last British survivor of the World War I trenches.

He was conscripted aged 18 and fought in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

More than 70,000 British men died in the battle, at Ypres.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Brown had long held the view that there should be a national commemoration.


The prime minister said he was "privileged" to have met Mr Patch, who died on Saturday.

Mr Brown added: "I think it's right that we as a nation have a national memorial service to remember the sacrifice."

The Royal British Legion welcomed the announcement, saying it had been in discussions about the service with the Ministry of Defence for some time.

Peter Cleminson, the Legion's national chairman, said: "Harry Patch was the exemplar of a generation that sacrificed itself for the sake of the freedoms we enjoy today.

"In a very real sense, the Armed Forces community today owes the Legion's support to the existence to Harry Patch's generation."

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

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

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said Mr Patch's funeral would be held in Wells Cathedral and would focus on prayers for peace and reconciliation.

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, before being wounded by a German shrapnel shell.

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.

Mr Patch had become Britain's oldest man after another veteran of the war, Henry Allingham, died on 18 July, aged 113.

Mr Allingham's public funeral with military honours will take place in Brighton on Thursday.

The Legion's Somerset county manager David Lowe said Mr Patch had only taken out membership of the organisation just over a year before his death.

Mr Lowe added: "We were rather surprised to find he wasn't a member so we signed him up and presented him with a bottle of fine whiskey."

The sole British survivor of World War I is now former seaman Claude Choules, who is aged 108 and lives in Perth, Australia.

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

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