The death of the third oldest man on record, Harry Patch aged 111, is noteworthy for several reasons. The first is that he fought in the trenches in the First World War, also known as the Great War and was the last British survivor of that conflict. The second is for his opinion that wars should not be fought but that there should be negotiation and compromise instead. I think that if you were in those trenches, that is the only way you could feel as young men, boys really, were slaughtered for no apparent reason.

Wars in the eighteenth century were certainly lethal, but doctors probably killed off more survivors than they saved. There were also surrenders where men were sworn not to take up arms again and released. Although wounds were far more deadly in that day, a surprisingly large number of people survived war time conflict. Horatio Nelson, the famed British admiral, lost an eye and an arm before dying in the Battle of Trafalgar in the arms of his first mate.

When I lived in London in the 1970’s I frequented a pub where an old man told me about how the British used to have victorious British soldiers dropped off in Westminster near the Houses of Parliament to cheering crowds. However, when the soldiers were not victorious, they were dropped off in Limehouse in East London where I met this man. He remembered the troops who returned from Khartoum after the failed relief of Gordon in the 1880’s when he was a young boy. Life is never kind to the losers. Harry Patch understood that much.

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