Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Last Tommy

Yesterday, Radiohead released a song called "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)," a particularly emotional tribute to Harry Patch, who passed away recently. Patch was 111 years old at his death, and he was the last surviving World War I combat soldier, or "tommy" as they were called in Great Britain. Patch served in France with the British light infantry and was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele, a particularly bloody six-month battle in 1917 that further disillusioned the British public. After the war, Patch worked as a plumber and was a fireman during World War II, and he helped put out fires after German air raids on Bath, England.

He refused to talk about his war experiences until much later in life as more and more World War I veterans passed away. For a 2003 BBC documentary, Patch became an outspoken critic against war in general, stating, "Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims."

Jonny Greenwood arranged the strings (recorded in an English abbey), and Thom Yorke sings the lead vocals. The lyrics are all quotes from Mr. Patch himself:

I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I've seen devils coming up from the ground
I've seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn.

Harry Patch was buried today at Wells Cathedral, Somerset, England. The bells of the cathedral were rung 111 times.

You can buy and download the track here, or stream it below. All proceeds benefit the UK veterans' charity the Royal British Legion.

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