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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William was born on the 16th December 1894 in the village of Murton in County Durham. At 14 he would follow his father down the pit at Mutton Colliery. At the outbreak of war he enlisted on the 3rd September, aged 20, into the Yorkshire Regiment, The Green Howards, and was posted to the 8th (Service) Battalion. The Battalion travelled to France in August 19115 as part of the 69th Brigade, 23rd Division. It was during the Somme offensive in 1916 that William would win his first Military medal, having gone out into no-man’s-land to rescue a wounded officer. The following year during 3rd Ypres, generally known as Passcheandaele, he received a bar to his Military Medal, again recuing men wounded or buried under shellfire. In late 1917 he was part of the detachment of British and French troops sent to the Italian front to bolster the Italians after their disastrous defeat at the Battle of Caparetto. In October of 1918 the allied advance culminated in their victory at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto paving the way for the total defeat of the Austrian Army. It was during this battle that William received the Victoria Cross having put to flight the enemy and capturing a machine gun. William left the Army in February 1919 and returned to life down the pit at Murton Colliery. He married and would father 6 children. In 1940 he joined the Local Defence Volunteers in Murton and the following year served in the Durham Home…
Florence was born on the 19th of October 1899 in Boxted, Essex, United Kingdom to Ellen Biggs and Henry Ernest Biggs. She enrolled as a VAD clerk for the British Red Cross and was stationed at the Military Hospital Catterick Camp. ‘Biggsie’, as she was known by her friends and fellow VAD workers, spent approximately a year at Catterick Camp. Stationed from 15th January 1918 until the 11th of February 1919 when she returned to Essex as a VAD G/S Clerk in the British Red Cross, Sobraon Military Hospital, Colchester. Florence Hilda Lily Biggs died in Essex, United Kingdom in 1984. This information, provided by Alathea Anderssohn has been drawn from the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ archive.
Marguerite was born on the 25th March 1892 in Kensington London. From an early age she had a love of books. She attended Norland Place School in Notting Hill. It was soon apparent that she was academically gifted. She also excelled at sport, especially Hockey. During the war years she became Honorary Secretary of the Norland School Old Girls Association. Marguerite left school in 1908 and went on to higher education attaining First Class honours at the Cambridge Higher Local with a distinction in history. In 1910 she went to Dresden in Germany to study culminating in First Class Honours again with a distinction in spoken German. She was also fluent in French. In January 1911 went to Canada in what was a combines holiday/studying venture. October of that year would see her entering Clough Hall Newham College Cambridge to study further in the German language, again attaining First Class honours. At the outbreak of war Marguerite was employed by the Young Men’s Christian Society (YMCA). The Society had been established in London in 1844 as a prayer and bible study group. At the outbreak of war it turned their attention to providing support for servicemen. In November 1914, working with the BEF, it established centres in France. By 1918 there were over 300 centres. Marguerite would find herself working in the War Office Translation Bureau because of her language skills. From March 1918 Marguerite was part of the Army Education Service of the YMCA at Etaples on the northern…