When canvassing the local businesses for information about characters from the time of the First World War for our Ribbon of Remembrance, a major surprise came from Wendy, shop manager at the Castle Hill Bookshop. “You know what my name is?!” was her reply to the enquiry. Wendy Patch is the granddaughter of Harry Patch, the ‘Last Fighting Tommy’.
Henry John Patch died on 25th July 2009, aged 111 years, having attained a level of celebrity that he can never have imagined at the time when he was No 2 on a Lewis gun team in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Harry was an apprentice plumber before he was conscripted into the army at the age of 18. He saw action at the Third Battle of Ypres, though his war came to an end on 22nd September 1917 following a German shell burst which killed three of his fellow Lewis gunners. Harry’s wound saw him hospitalised for 12 months. The Armistice came about while he was convalescing on the Isle of Wight.
Following the war, Harry married Ada Billington, had two sons Denis and Roy and returned to work as a plumber.
Harry only spoke about the war in the latter part of his life and when he did it was without any animosity towards the Germans who faced him across No-man’s Land. As one of the few Great War veterans who survived into the 21st century, Harry was invited to Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. He was awarded an honorary degree by Bristol University in 2004, the Legion d’Honneur by the French government and made a Knight of the Order of Leopold by King Albert II of Belgium.
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Submitted by Will Young. 1/6th (Perthshire) Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) Thomas Young (TEY), my grandfather, was born in 1874 and commissioned into 4th (Volunteer) Battalion, Black Watch in 1898. At the outbreak of the First World War, he commanded “F” (Auchterarder) Company, 1/6th Black Watch, and was mobilised on 5th August 1914 and went with them to their war station which was at North Queensferry on the north side of the River Forth close to the railway bridge. He did not accompany the battalion when it went overseas in May 1915, and until he did go to France he served with one of the reserve battalions at various locations in the UK. TEY re-joined the 1/6th near Arras on 9th July 1916. The battalion went south to the Somme and after their costly attack near High Wood the Officer commanding “C” Company was killed, he took over its command. The 1/6th was withdrawn from the battle area and moved north to Armentieres. They stayed in this area until early October and during this time spent 28 days in the trenches, sometime in a “Rest Camp” and the remainder of the time training or working, and one day at the Divisional Horse Show. The battalion moved back to the Somme and on the 13th November he was wounded at Beaumont Hamel, during the Battle of the Ancre. After treatment in a hospital in France he was evacuated to the UK. He did not return to the front and left the…
Mary Wilkinson (née Marshall and usually known as Molly) died in Winchester in 1983 at the age of 90. Mary had originally enlisted in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in 1912. On the outbreak of the First World War she was initially refused permission by the British Authorities to go to Belgium and so it was under the jurisdiction of the Belgian Government that she made her way across the Channel. Her medals, testament to her work during the war, are displayed in the museum’s Medal Room alongside those of her husband, Captain Wilkinson. Few FANYs, let alone women, were decorated with the Military Medal, an award earned while she was based at the hospital at Marquise in the grounds of the 1st Aeroplane Supply Depot. This location saw the most devastating German aerial attack of the war on an aviation facility. The citation for her Military Medal states “For gallantry and coolness during a bombing raid by hostile aircraft….she displayed the utmost disregard of danger, attending many serious wound cases which required skilful and immediate assistance.”
Submitted by Pam Reed – William was her first cousin once removed. William Billam was born Robert William Beckwith Earsdon in Jarrow on 17 September 1893. By 1906 his mother and stepfather Elizabeth and George Billam had moved to Hinderwell, 8 miles north of Whitby. In 1911 William was living with them and had taken his stepfather’s surname of Billam. In 1913 William married Ada Simpson and continued to live in the same village. On the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted on 15 August 1914 at Whitby as 12122 Private Billam in the 11th Reserve Cavalry Regiment. However on 1 November 1914 he was discharged as ‘being unlikely to make an efficient soldier’. Having failed to make the grade in the cavalry, he promptly volunteered for the infantry . At the end of 1914 he enlisted again at Whitby as 18687 Private Billam in the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. William was killed on 1st July 1916, first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was buried in the Dantzig Alley British Cemetary in Mametz along with 2052 other British soldiers. His name is on the Hinderwell War Memorial. He left a widow and 2 year old daughter. Extract from the Whitby Gazette Friday 18 August 1916 as follows:- Killed in action on July 1st. Private William Billam, aged 22 years. He was the first to enlist from Hinderwell on August 15th 1914. “His country called and he answered”