Friday, 7 August 2009

Farewell Harry

I am writing this having just watched the TV coverage of the Funeral of Harry Patch in Wells and as soon as I finish I am off for two weeks holiday in Belgium and Germany and what an illustration of the trajectory of the 20th Century. from a generation forced to go to war to a generation which can go to the battlefields of the Western Front and Ardenne as tourists.

I was at the Kent Messenger War And Peace Show when the news that Harry patch had died began to seep through the site, thanks to the wonder that is Wi Fi. Ironically I was talking to our friends of 10th Essex Living History Group who cover the Great War at the time. Immediately plans were made to stand to with reversed arms and flags went to half mast. There was the real sense personal loss- most of the Essex lads had met Harry and Henry Allingham on their trips to the Western Front and of an end of an era.

It is also worth recalling that it was really only in their hundreds that Harry, Henry and the others began to bear witness to things that had not really been talked of for three quarters of a century with another World War intervening. It is surely no co-incidence that Conflict Archaeology has come about within a very similar time frame.

I began the month with a trip to the South Bank for the annual commemoration of the International Brigades Memorial Trust, a gathering of relatives, friends and supporters from all over the world including the USA, Germany and Sweden. Guests of Honour were two of the few surviving British veterans including Sam Lesser, who trained as an Egyptologist at University College London under Sir Flinders Petrie before ending up in the University District of Madrid, taking part in the bitter fighting to turn back the fascist advance on the City in 1936.

International Brigade veteran Sam Lesser at the International Brigade
Memorial Trust Commemoration.

Petrie did some of his first field work here in north west Kent and there we have some of the fascinating and unlikely human links which make this subject so moving and rewarding to work in and why we must work to put the human stories front and center of our Conflict Archaeology, while we still can.

The International Brigades Memorial on the South Bank by County Hall in London.

Salud Sam and the Cameradas.

and we salute Harry and the lost generations of all nationalities of the Great War as he wanted.

As they sang at the service- "where have all the flowers gone?" indeed.

Andy Brockman August 2009