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Last British veteran of WWI trenches dies at 111

LONDON — Harry Patch, Britain's last survivor of the trenches of World War I, was a reluctant soldier who became a powerful eyewitness to the horror of war, and a symbol of a lost generation.

Patch, who died Saturday at 111, was wounded in 1917 in the Battle of Passchendaele, which he remembered as "mud, mud and more mud mixed together with blood."

"Anyone who tells you that in the trenches they weren't scared, he's a damned liar: You were scared all the time," Patch was quoted as saying in a book, The Last Fighting Tommy, written with historian Richard van Emden.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the whole country would mourn "the passing of a great man."

"The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten. We say today with still greater force, We Will Remember Them," Brown said.

Britain's Ministry of Defense called Patch the last British military survivor of the 1914-18 war, although British-born Claude Choules of Australia, 108, is believed to have served in the Royal Navy during the conflict.

Patch was one of the last living links to "the war to end all wars," which killed about 20 million people in years of fighting between the Allied Powers — including Britain, France and the United States — and Germany and its allies. The Ministry of Defense said Patch was the last soldier of any nationality to have fought in the brutal trench warfare.

There are no French or German veterans of the war left alive. The last known U.S. veteran is Frank Buckles, 108, of Charles Town, W.Va., who drove ambulances in France for the U.S. Army.

Patch did not speak about his war experiences until he was 100. Once he did, he was adamant that the slaughter he witnessed had not been justified.

"I met someone from the German side and we both shared the same opinion: We fought, we finished and we were friends," he said in 2007.

"It wasn't worth it."

Last British veteran of WWI trenches dies at 111 07/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 25, 2009 8:07pm]

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