The Last Post for the last fighting Tommy

The Last Post has finally sounded for the last witness.

Resting beneath the Union Flag and a huge wreath of red English roses, Harry Patch went over the top for the last time yesterday, into the arms of his maker and the mates he could never forget.

Gentle Somerset rain and the peerless crescendo of Elgar's Nimrod were the perfect backdrop to this profound moment of closure for the nation - and, indeed, the wider world.

We really were saying goodbye to that generation who have haunted and yet inspired us for the best part of a century.

All 1,400 seats in Wells Cathedral were filled while thousands more gathered in the rainy precincts and streets outside to say farewell to the last soldier of the Great War, the 'last fighting Tommy', the last man who had known the smell of the trenches and the horrors that lay beyond them.

The plumber from Combe Down had always rejected suggestions of a state funeral for the last of the last. But this was not far off. The governments and armies of four nations - including Germany - had sent delegations to salute the 111-year-old.
Leading the home team was a trio of women. The Duchess of Cornwall was representing the Prince of Wales (Harry had served in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry).
Alongside her was the Duchess of Gloucester, the President of the World War One Veterans' Association.

And Harriet Harman, this week's understudy to Gordon Brown, was representing the Government.

England's smallest city had been filling up from breakfast time as people from all over Britain came to pay their respects to an entire epoch. Crowds of all ages lined the streets to the city centre from Fletcher House, Mr Patch's care home for the last 12 years of his life.

As the hearse proceeded at walking speed, it was followed by six pall-bearers from the 1st Battalion The Rifles (five of whom have recently returned from fighting in Afghanistan). Mr Patch had specifically asked that his pall-bearers should be roughly the same age as he was - 19 - when he was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele in Ypres in 1917.

He had also requested that his funeral should be a statement of peace and reconciliation, with invitations extended to allies and old foes alike. So, the coffin was also escorted by two soldiers from, respectively, Belgium, France and Germany.


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