Radiohead Releases Powerful Anti-War Tribute to Last British Veteran of WWI

by mgopin on August 16, 2009 · 3 comments

I love Radiohead for their profound lyrics and powerful music. Earlier this month, Radiohead made available a track that’s a tribute to the late Harry Patch, who was believed to be the last living survivor of World War I. Patch, pictured below, died on July 25 of this year.

Source: WSJt

Source: WSJ

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke was inspired to write the song — titled “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” — after he heard a 2005 BBC interview with Patch. Yorke, quoted in a Wall Street Journal article about the song, said: “The way he talked about war had a profound effect on me…It became the inspiration for a song that we happened to record a few weeks before his death.”

Yorke used some of Patch’s words from that 2005 interview in the lyrics of the song:

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

The Patch/Yorke narrator here references the Battle of Passchendaele of September 1917. Patch was wounded in that battle, and three of his comrades were killed. According to the WSJ, it was “one of the most horrific actions of the war that saw British casualties in the hundreds of thousands during the three months it lasted. In [the BBC interview], Patch said that he went 80 years without discussing his war experiences, even with his family.” All told, that battle saw about 585,000 casualties (out of approximately 37 million over the course of the war).

The Battle of Passchendaele, known both for its huge number casualties and the heavy mud (Source: www.aucklandmuseum.com)

The Battle of Passchendaele, known for both its huge number casualties and the heavy mud (Source: www.aucklandmuseum.com)

Though reluctant to speak out at first, Patch did become something of a spokesman for WWI survivors, and though he fought nearly a century ago, his message rings true today. It’s about time we heed that message.

“Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” is available for download on Radiohead’s Web site for $1.68. All proceeds will benefit the British Legion, a charity that supports British veterans and their families.

© Marc Gopin

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