Harry Patch, the last living British soldier to have experienced the trenches in the First World War has died at the age of 111. The last of a generation of young men most of whom did not come home in one piece. They deserve our respect.
Politicians and royals such as Prince Charles (who boasts a chest-full of medals, for what one wonders) have been quick to comment. But then, these are mainly people who have a history of and vested interest in glorifying war – usually whilst keeping themselves and their families well away from the carnage.
No glory in the experience or words of Harry Patch though. He said ‘War is organised murder, and nothing else.’
He didn’t quote the Roman poet Horace on war: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori [How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country]. He didn’t echo the war based sentiments of Cecil Spring-Rice’s hymn ‘I vow to thee my country’:
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
No, Harry Patch said that war is organised murder. And he knew what he was talking about.
So, organised murder is a strange thing to be celebrating at Westminster Abbey as apparently will now happen. Or perhaps not given the history of much of the church in enthusiastically supporting war. Harry Patch faithfully and rightly joined in commemorations of his fallen comrades but what’s the betting that his view of war will be conveniently forgotten at the service. Would Westminster Abbey host a service for serial killers – a crass suggestion if there ever was one. Yet murder is murder whether it is organised by the state or individuals.
The ultimate respect we could pay to Harry Patch and his comrades would be hear his words.