Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Harry Patch Awarded French Légion d’Honneur

by Kathryn Hadley

On Monday, Harry Patch, one of only two surviving British veterans of the First World War, was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, the highest decoration in France. He was awarded the medal by the French Ambassador, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, at his nursing home in Wells, Somerset.

Harry Patch, who is now 110 years old, was called up for service in the British Army in 1916, when he was working as an apprentice plumber. He began his army training in 1917 and was later recruited in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry as a Lewis gunner assistant. He fought as a machine-gunner in the 1917 Battle of Passhchendaele, which saw the death of 70,000 British troops. Patch himself was badly wounded and three of his best friends were killed. During the Second World War, he served as a maintenance manager at a US Army camp in Somerset and thereafter joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in Bath. Patch only began to talk about his wartime experiences in the 21st century. He has previously received various honours, including British War and Victory medals, and, in 1998, was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour along with over 300 other veterans from the First World War.

Harry Patch reportedly stated his gratitude upon receiving the award:
‘Now, but two of us remain at our post and the people of France, through their
president, have honoured us once more by appointing us as Officers of the Legion
of Honour. Ambassador, I greatly appreciate the way your people respect the
memory of those who fell, irrespective of the uniform they wore. I will wear
this medal with great pride and when I eventually rejoin my mates it will be
displayed in my regimental museum as a permanent reminder of the kindness of the
people of France.’

In the words of Veterans Minister, Kevan Jones:
‘[Harry Patch] served with such distinction during wars to protect our liberty.
I welcome this award which pays tribute to him for the huge contribution he has
made. We are justly proud of his service and thank the French government for
this honour.’

112-year-old Henry Allingham, who served as an airman, is the only other surviving British First World War veteran. He is also due to be honoured with the French Légion d’Honneur, next week.

An article reporting on the ceremony is available on the website of the Ministry of Defence
For an insight into the social, cultural and historical significance of the Victoria Cross, a British medal, read our article The Victoria Cross

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