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Camilla leads mourners saying goodbye to Harry Patch, the 'Last Fighting Tommy'

August 7, 2009
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An "ordinary Somerset man" who "became extraordinary" – this was just one of the tributes read out in honour of Britain's last surviving WWI veteran, Harry Patch, at his funeral service at Wells Cathedral in Somerset on Thursday. Among those paying their respects to Harry – the last living soldier to have fought in the trenches in the Great War - was Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall

The Duchess of Gloucester was also present in her role as the president of the World War One Veterans' Association. The loss of such a poignant figure was really marked, however, by the thousands of people, from children to grandparents, who lined the streets as the funeral procession made its way to the cathedral.

Movingly, his coffin - carried by soldiers of the 1st Batallion The Rifles - was escorted by two soldiers from each of the armed forces of France, Belgium and Germany, illustrating the former plumber's respect for soldiers on all sides of the war. Marie-France Andri – Belgium's Chare D'Affaires – read an extract from his memoir, The Last Fighting Tommy.

One of Harry's friends, Jim Ross, said of his decision to write the book: "He realised he was one of a dwindling band and that as that band decreased in numbers, he was becoming more and more significant. Harry knew that by speaking out, the memories would come back, the demons I call them, would come back to torment and torture him. I believe they did, but I believe Harry made the decision because he wanted to get his message broadcast."

One member of the crowd, who watched the service on screens erected outside the cathedral, summed up the feeling of universal gratitude to a doomed generation represented by Harry when he said: "Never met, never forgotten."

Harry, who trained as a plumber upon leaving school at 15, operated as a machine gunner in the trenches and served as a private from June to September 1917 when he was injured in the notorious Ypres Salient battle. At the time of his death on July 25 at the Fletcher House care home in Wells, he was the oldest man in Europe at 111, following the death exactly a week earlier of 113-year-old Henry Allingham.

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