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August 7, 2009

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Final salute to last UK WWI vet

CHURCH and state, hundreds of warriors of other battles and ordinary townsfolk paid final tribute yesterday to Britain's last World War I infantry veteran, in a memorial service marking his death at age 111.

Hundreds of people lined the main street to watch Harry Patch's coffin, shrouded in a Union flag, roll silently down the narrow road leading to the town cathedral in Wells.

As the hearse passed, townspeople fell in behind, walking in silent tribute.

On the eve of Patch's funeral, the rock group Radiohead released a song, "Last Tommy," in commemoration of Patch.

Patch, who died on July 25, only began talking about his experience of trench warfare in his last years. He had returned, wounded, from the Western Front and quietly lived out his life as a plumber. Patch outlived two wives, and both of his sons.

General Richard Dannatt, the top commander of Britain's army, attended the service at Wells Cathedral, and an honor guard was drawn from The Rifles regiment, successor to Patch's unit. Soldiers from France, Germany and Belgium were also escorting the coffin, in tribute to Patch's respect for all the soldiers in the war.

Patch will be buried where he was born, in the mining village of Combe Down, 33 kilometers northeast of Wells.


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