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4.7 out of 5 stars185
4.7 out of 5 stars
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2014
Harry Patch was a peaceable man, but one with definite opinions. He never really saw why he , or any other, was required to go to war, and his experiences in it remained too raw to talk about for most of his life. The final years of his very long life gave him the chance to confront and defeat his demons, and then to speak out as the voice of the ordinary private. This collaboration is always respectful, and puts Harry's views and memories into context. Harry himself reminds us that the war, traumatic as it was, was only one chapter in a long and interesting life. I live near Combe Down, and I found Harry's memories of his childhood there particularly interesting and entertaining, as are his jawdropping memories of working on the Wills Memorial Building in Bristol. This book is a really good read, for anyone interested in the history of the 20th century through the eyes of an extraordinary "ordinary" man
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2013
Harry Patch, the reluctant celebrity who found fame after he attained his 100th birthday. This engaging and charming gentleman did so much more than be the last Tommy from the trenches.

Richard van Emden brings us a book which gives us the whole Harry Patch story. Harry was our last living link to World War I, although Claude Choules was the last of the last, it appears that the Australians have claimed him as he lived out his life in Fremantle, Western Australia. So Harry was truly British and his life is well documented from his childhood right through to the end in 2009. Harry was for a couple of months Britain's oldest man, surviving Henry Allingham who predeceased him as well as being one of our last WWI veterans. Like so many of his predecessors, Harry was unwilling to share his story, however, after some discussions, he recorded this book with the able assistance from van Emden who adds some links between Harry's pieces.

He was a plumber to trade who owned his own company, seemed to call a spade a spade, and worked as a firefighter in WWII as he was classed as too old to fight in 1939.

He seemed to be one of these charming elderly gentlemen who can attract the ladies with a smile but I guess when you are a centenarian, it's one of the perks. Married twice, and had a companion in the nursing home he lived in was testament to his engaging personality.

However Harry will always be inextricably linked to Passchendaele, September 1917, which he says is his Remembrance Day, when he lost his pals and was invalided out. He didn't see the point in joining up as he was not patriotic, something akin to treason in 1914, but was conscripted in 1917. He met Charles Kuentz one of Germany's last veterans at the Western front and it was this redemption, this reconciliation that brought everything full circle. One of Harry's last appearances was with Henry Allingham and Bill Stone when they were all in their wheelchairs at Remembrance Day where the atmosphere would have to have been palpable seeing those men all past their 100th birthdays paying respect when we should have been paying respect to them.

Harry comes across as a very human person with faults the same as the rest of us but read the book to find these out, it is not right to pass judgement on a man who is not here to defend himself but what I did find is a real sense of humour where Harry says at the start that if it was alright, could people please stop asking for his autograph as at his age (I think he was 108 at the time), it was not really easy to write anymore and he hoped people would understand his reasons!

Dear Harry Patch, I wish I'd met you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2013
This was a very enjoyable and quick read. I have seen some reviewers give it less stars because they felt that the title was misleading due to this being more of a biography about Harry Patch rather than a more concentrated Great War story. I do not feel cheated at all and understood before I started to read it that it was about Harry's life. I find Richard Van Emben a very capable writer who has put this together very well, he put a lot of work into it and I find his asides throughout the book very interesting as he comes in to offer an explanation about the next part of the story.

For the reviewers who have given this book a lesser star rating, some have said that those who give it a higher star rating only do it because the book is about Harry Patch and so we would not give it less stars because of that reason. This is not so with me, I actually enjoyed reading about Harry's life, starting from his childhood and into his old age, although I will admit that I only skim-read the Epilogue: Harry: His family and friends as I found it boring and it seemed to cover what had already been said in the book.

As someone who is interested in social history, I found the stories about England during the early 1900's intriguing and it was brought to live on the pages. The section about the Great War may well not have been long enough for some people but I found it ample enough and Harry explained his story well and with emotion, I often was touched by many of the stories he re-told and it also made me realise the emotional distress war can cause, and makes me thankful that I have not experienced it myself.

All in all I did enjoy this book and would recommend it, however if you want an in depth analysis of the Great War then this will not be for you. I have only deducted one star due to the Epilogue being a big boring, but that's just my personal preference.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 September 2010
There's not much more which can be said about this book! This is a fascinating insight into the life of what I would term as a 'true hero'. An ordinary many who lived through the horrors of two world wars and gives us a working man's history of the twentieth century. An ordinary man who lived through and extraordinary period of history which superbly illustrates the realities of life and survival. This is not only a well-written biography it is a book which should be part of any history curriculum for its insights into the social, political and technological development in twentieth century Britain and beyond.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 12 March 2011
I'd been wanting to read this book for ages, but never got around to it for one reason or another. Harry Patch was one of the more compelling veterans that were interviewed as part of a BBC documentary about the First World War and his strong Somerset accent made him stand out even further.

This book tells the story of Harry's life, not the just part of it where he was fighting in the trenches, but about his growing up in the early years of the 20th century and how his career as a plumber was interrupted by the war.

I found the book to be a gripping read, as Harry had led an interesting and varied life before and after he served his county. It also made me think of the many men like Harry who never talked about their experiences, but pushed it down deep inside them and tried their best to get on with their lives. My only negative about the book is that it would have been good to see more pictures of Harry and his family throughout his life. The ones in the book were also too small to really see clearly.

Harry has now gone and with him go the last memories of what it was like to endure the horrors of trench warfare. Luckily for future generations we have the books, stories and interviews from Harry and his comrades to make sure we never forget.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 June 2011
This is an excellent book and a must-read for anyone interested in the wonderful man, Harry Patch. Most of us know about him because of his WW 1 experiences and then later his TV appearances when he returned to the battlefields of Ypres. These were such utterly moving accounts of the loss and the futility of war. I will never forget Harry's voice asking 'why?'
This book tells us about his life, from his early boyhood growing up near Bath (Combe Down) his friends and their boy-ish exploits, the local area and its mining industry, his marriage, work, where he went on family holidays etc. It gives us a complete picture of the man and sets him firmly in the place he grew up and went back to live in. There is some fascinating local history in here. And it's mostly his words as recorded by the writer/interviewer. There is sufficient information provided as support where required but not too much so as to overwhelm Harry's own voice and words. I felt like he was telling me his story in that lovely soft, lilting voice and accent.
The author did an excellent job and I almost feel jealous that he spent all that time talking to Harry and sharing the very last part of his life. I wish it could have been me!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2012
This book isn't quite what I was expecting but that said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were parts that seemed to have been 'filled in' and although I understand this was undoubtedly necessary I felt it detracted from the flow. Although there is not a great deal about the war what there is, is very well documented and makes one realise why many an 'old soldier' didn't want to talk about it: the memories must have been horrendous, as indeed they would be in any like situation. Mr Patch is an extraordinary man, although I have no doubt he would argue against and his memories of the life he led take one back to a time that was far from the rat race it is today. My grandfather came from Somerset and reading this book was like having him read it to me because he too was gentle and wanted to be left to get on with his life and family. It's easy to be sentimental and long for days gone by but reading this just took me back to climbing trees, riding bikes and scrumping. I loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2011
I was given this book as a Christmas present. I had seen Harry Patch on TV a few years earlier so I had some knowledge of his WWI experiences, and thought that the book would be a more detailed account of his time in the trenches. In that respect I was mistaken, as although about half the book is dedicated to his time in the army, as he only spent about 4 months in the front line there was very little new in terms of details of his time under fire. However, this was a minor problem as the vivid story of his life pre WWI, between the wars, during WW2 and in his later years was if anything of greater interest to me than his time in WW1. The book is well written by Richard Van Emben and was a very easy and pleasurable read. If you are in any way interested in modern history I would strongly recommend that you read this book and discover some more about the long and eventful life of Harry Patch.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2011
An engrossing account of World War 1 and its effect on an ordinary working man's life and family. Harry's meeting after the war with a German officer who fought at Passchendaele is simply told and moving: neither of them had any desire to fight and kill people they didn't know. As Harry rightly states all wars end by being discussed around a conference table and it's a great pity that this doesn't happen in the beginning before mass slaughter takes place. Harry's thoughts on Armistice commemorations are also enlightening: he saw them as glorifying war and having lived through two, he perceived them only as mass murder. He regarded the Second World War as proof that nothing was learnt from the First. On a lighter note, I loved the photos of him as he rose two fingers (and it wasn't V for Victory!) at a photographer, then turning around and giving him a big grin. Great man. RIP, Harry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 March 2011
I've seen loads of programs on tv about Harry - a wonderful old man. When I heard about the book I read quite a few reviews online. What everyone said was 100% correct - if you are after a First World War book then buy something else because this is Harry's life story.
There is a good-sized section all about joining up and active service. And what happened after he was injured. But the book has great stories about Harry as a young man and then into married life. His role in World War 2 and growing old.
Its a fascinating read and you dont need an interest in WW1 to get an enjoyable read from the book. If you are interested in WW1 then Harry's stories about life in the trenches is both informative and heartbreaking.
Its not an expensive book and its easy reading. The proceeds from the book goes to the RNLI so you get a great book and you are able to support a worthy cause. Enjoy !
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