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on 3 January 2014
I have read one other of this author's eye witness books, The Soldier's War. He writes very well; importantly he writes sparingly allowing the eyewitnesses to speak. The eyewitness, in this case, is Henry Patch, the last survivor of the very many who fought on the front lines in Europe during WWI. In his last decade or so, after he finally chose to begin speaking about his experiences in The Great War, he eventually became tired of doing so, as that was all anyone seemed to want to talk to him about. Whilst that time inevitably forms the core of this book, Richard van Emden has done a superb job of writing a full biography; not simply about the 4 months he spent in the trenches, or the 2 & a half years or so between conscription & de-mob. The whole of his life, with all its ups & downs, is covered, including some very pointed thoughts on the nature of war, as well many charming & chuckle-inducing anecdotes about rural life in the first half of the 20th century. In short, I can't recommend this highly enough.
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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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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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on 1 February 2015
How could anything directly related to this lovely and remarkable man be worth less than 5 stars?! I've heard several of the anecdotes about the war previously through the BBC'S documentaries but they're put into the context of Harry's entire life here - a life that spanned some of the greatest achievements in human history. A lovely read for Harry fans and those who've not yet encountered him, plus some interesting historical material to boot. His drole sense of humour shines through and thinking of Harry, his stories, always brings a smile to my face). An entire generation of brave people now gone but will the lesson ever be learned (as Harry dearly wished), that is the lesson of peace? I've made September 22nd my personal remembrance day since reading this.
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on 18 March 2017
A poignant story from a quiet, sensitive man, who lived to impress a new generation about the horror and futility of war. The Nation took Harry to it's heart. A truly great man - just for being Harry - a REAL Hero of his time.
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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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on 19 August 2017
I was a little disappointed that there wasn't lots more war content although I would still say a good read. I didn't see why the section with people who knew Harry was added, it seemed just a way to fill the book up.
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on 28 July 2014
An amazing story by an amazing man who rightly survived to tell the tale we can now read a century later.

His amazing personality and humanity shine through in his own words. He and his fellow machine gunners had made a pact with each other that if possible they'd shoot below the knee. He had no hatred or desire to kill anyone yet was forced into a war he never understood or wanted anything to do with.

This is as much a story of the human spirit as it is of war and in his simple tale we learn how a generation were wiped out.
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on 3 January 2012
Having followed Harry Patch's exploits before he departed, this book was a necessary purchase, if only to view its biographical value. There was some useful co-operation between Harry and the author (Harry's contribution was more valuable) although some of the impact was lost 'in translation'. The guy was clearly inspiring and had much to say both in a previous and a modern context. His anti-war stance will probably be his his most enduring legacy, and he will be remembered for his kindliness and his humanity.
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on 9 February 2015
What can I say about this book? I have just finished and can honestly say it is one of the best books I have read in a long while. By turns funny, heartbreaking and thought provoking, it is sad that this great man and all his memories of a more innocent, less materialistic Britain are no longer with us
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