First World War heroes remembered
We were saddened to hear of the death of the oldest surviving First World War veteran, 111 year-old Harry Patch. This follows the recent death of fellow war veteran Henry Allingham, 113, and leaves just one surviving British veteran of World War One; Claude Choules, 108.
As this event drifts further into the past, so too do the memories of these men, and of the horrors of this massive conflict. Harry Patch was a gunner in the Light Infantrymen who survived one of the bloodiest British offensives, the Third Battle of Ypres, while Henry was a mechanic in the Royal Naval Air Service who among other postings, was put to work on the Western Front neutralising the booby trapped bombs left by the Germans as they retreated.
For many years both men refused to talk about their experiences, preferring to shut out the traumatic memories. But in later life, when they did speak, both recalled the nightmarish conditions of the battlefield with their permanently waterlogged trenches (Allingham remembered working up to his armpits in water), the disease and plague of enormous rats, and the smell of death. After the war these men returned to their ordinary lives; Henry as a mechanic and Harry as a plumber.
There were 16 million deaths and 21 million casualties across the countries involved in WWI, and if you have ancestry that is British it is highly likely that a member of your extended family served in the conflict.
And perhaps what is so extraordinary about Henry and Harry is that their experiences, which pushed people to the limits of human endurance, were mirrored by millions of others involved in the fighting, including your ancestors.
Claude Choules in 1911
Britain’s last surviving Great War veteran, Claude Choules, is also the only living person, of any nationality, who has served in both World Wars. In 1911, three years before the start of the conflict, he was 10 years old and lived in Wyre, Pershore in Worcestershire. Here he is on the 1911 census with his father (a clerk to a market gardener), and his two elder brothers, who were labourers: