Page last updated at 06:46 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 07:46 UK

WWI veteran marks 111th birthday

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A party was held to mark Mr Patch's 111th birthday

Harry Patch, the last British survivor of the World War I trenches, is celebrating his 111th birthday.

Mr Patch, who grew up in Coombe Down, near Bath, never spoke in public about his part in WWI until he turned 100.

At 18, he was conscripted into the Army and sent to fight in the Battle of Passchendaele in Ypres, which claimed the lives of more than 70,000 soldiers.

He now lives at a care home in Wells, Somerset, where a party was held in his honour.

On Saturday, a strawberry tea party was held at his care home, Fletcher House, which was accompanied by the Avon Glen Pipe and Drums Band.

Mr Patch served in the trenches as a private from June to September 1917 when he was seriously injured by a shell explosion which killed three of his friends.

Birthday wishes

He has been married twice, first in 1919 in Hadley, Shropshire, to Ada which lasted for 60 years and then to Jean, who he married at the age of 81.

The war veteran had two sons with Ada, Dennis and Roy, both of whom Harry has outlived.

The greatest point for him was going to Menin Gate with the last survivor of the German army from World War I.
David Tucker, great-nephew

Notably he worked on the roof of the Wills Memorial Building in Park Street, Bristol.

He sat his professional exams and started his own plumbing business in Bath.

Along with his usual card from the Queen, the Belgian Ambassador was also among those sending their birthday wishes to Mr Patch.

In 2008, on his 110th birthday, the Ambassador presented Mr Patch with Belgium's highest military accolade, the Knights of Leopold medal.

This year, Belgian Ambassador, Jean-Michel Veranneman de Watervliet, wrote to him: "I hope this year will be an equally joyous occasion as last year's celebration."

In 1999 Mr Patch received France's highest decoration - the Legion D'Honneur medal, awarded by the French government to 350 surviving WWI veterans who fought on the Western Front.

At the age of 105, Mr Patch revisited the Ypres battlefield and in 2004 he returned for a BBC series to meet a German veteran, Charles Kuentz.

Memorial unveiling

He also visited the British and German cemeteries, placing a wreath of poppies on one of the German graves.

In September 2008 he made his last trip to Langemark for the unveiling of a memorial.

Earlier this year he was awarded his second Legion D'Honneur by French Ambassador Maurice Gourdault-Montagne.

Mr Patch's great-nephew David Tucker, 65, from Devizes, Wiltshire, who only realised he was related to Mr Patch five years ago, said: "The greatest point for him was going to Menin Gate with the last survivor of the German army from World War I.

"The effect of that on the French was astounding. I was told by the French ambassador that the people of France saw it on television and took it to heart that at last wounds of that conflict were healed.

"He told me that the Legion D'Honneur presented this year was President (Nicolas) Sarkozy's personal gesture for doing that."



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SEE ALSO
WWI veteran's tribute to comrades
09 Nov 08 |  Somerset
WWI veteran launches Poppy Appeal
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10 Nov 07 |  Somerset
War veteran's tribute to fallen
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Veteran, 109, revisits WWI trench
30 Jul 07 |  Europe

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