Harry Patch and the Panther’s Claw

© Terry Boardman

July 2009 the UK declares the first part of its delicately and ‘democratically’ titled  “Panther’s Claw” operation (the British bit of the US army ‘surge in Afghanistan) to have been a success. The BBC today (27 July) said that the Foreign Secretary “has been setting out Britain’s diplomatic strategy” as if Foreign Secretary David Milliband’s strategy to divide the Taliban originated with him. BUT…..



 on 17 November 2008 in a speech at Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs) titled  Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,  Zbigniew Brzezinski (pic.) said that the NATO strategy should be to split the “Talibans” (emphasising the plural form) and draw so-called moderate Afghans onto the USUK side, in other words the old Roman and British imperial tactic of ‘divide et impera’ (divide and rule). This was the first time a major USUK figure had raised this topic as a tactical aim. See http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/events/members/us_election_series/  for transcript and audio recording of Brzezinski’s speech.

Once again the British government are in fact the tail being wagged by the Foggy Bottom of the big dog, as they have been since Suez, and arguably, since 1945 or even 1941….with only one major exception, during the 1960s when the Wilson government refused to send the British military to fight in Vietnam.


“In doing so, [UK Foreign Secretary David Milliband] said a distinction should be drawn between “hard-line ideologues” and Jihadist terrorists who must be fought and defeated from those who could be “drawn into a political process”. Those who had either been coerced or bribed into joining the insurgency could play a constructive role if they disowned violence and respected the Afghan constitution, he said. “These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course.” Denying the approach marked a change of strategy, he added: “That means in the long term an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan – separating those who want Islamic rule locally from those committed to violent jihad globally – and giving them a sufficient role in local politics that they leave the path of confrontation with the government.”

General Patrick Cordingley declares on BBC Radio 4 (27.7.09) that UK “forces will be there [in Afghanistan] for a very long time” but may need to be withdrawn for a while, maybe 5 years, and then go back in again later on.

All this comes just days after the death of Harry Patch (aged 111), Britain’s last Tommy who fought in the trenches of World War 1.

Harry Patch: Never spoke about the war until he turned a 100 years old

Harry Patch: Never spoke about the war until he turned a 100 years old

The war ended on 11.11.11 (11 am on 11th November 1918). In his last 11 years of life Harry broke his long silence about his experiences in the Great War and talked about what he had been through. And what did he consistently say about the war and every war? This man, one of the very last of that entire generation that experienced the Great War, declared over and again in the last 11 years of his life to all who would listen to him:



“No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives, let alone thousands. T’isn’t worth it … the First World War, if you boil it down, what was it? Nothing but a family row. That’s what caused it.”


Harry said more about what he thought the war on the Western Front between Britain and Germany was in 1914-18:

 www.bbc.co.uk/…/ last_tommy_gallery_03.shtml

“You daren’t show above, otherwise a sniper would have you. You used to look between the fire and apertures and all you could see was a couple of stray dogs out there, fighting over a biscuit that they’d found. They were fighting for their lives. And the thought came to me – well, there they are, two animals out there fighting over a dog biscuit, the same as we get to live. They were fighting for their lives. I said, ‘We are two civilised nations – British and German – and what were we doing? We were in a lousy, dirty trench fighting for our lives? For what? For eighteen pence a flipping day.’”

By contrast, what has Gordon Brown said?: “

“The noblest of all the generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten….I think it’s right that we as a nation have a national memorial service to remember the sacrifice and all the work that was done by those people who served our country during World War One and to remember what we owe to that generation – our freedom, our liberties, the fact that we are a democracy in the world.”

Just as in 1917, while politicians spout meaningless empty dross, the men who actually experienced the reality speak their truth of what it was about.

 In 1920, just 7 months after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Rudolf Steiner

welcomed to Dornach Switzerland a group of British visitors and gave a series of lectures for them which dealt especially with the question of imperialism, which he said, had evolved from ancient times through three phases: theocratic (e.g. Egypt), military (e.g. Rome) to economic (e.g. Britain). One of the key characteristics of the modern economic imperialism was, he said, a culture of empty words. Politicians know that their citizens and soldiers will not want to kill and die for oil, copper and improved economic statistics, so instead, they give them fine-sounding but empty words. Husks of vacuous idealism. That is how Gordon Brown has responded to the death of Harry Patch.


“Those who live amid empty words believe they are thinking when they merely take words that stand for ancient concepts and roll them around in their brain. We can only find our way back to real thinking by filling our inner soul life with substance and this substance can only come from knowledge of the spiritual world. Only by filling themelves with spiritual life can people become fully human once again, after having been bladders filled with hot air and perfectly satisfied with the empty shells of words. Out of the feeling of shame…the call for the spirit will arise.” (22.2.1920)

An episode from Harry Patch’s wartime experience is often quoted when he described how a soldier torn apart by shrapnel asked his fellows to shoot him but died before they could, with the one word “Mother” on his lips. But Harry’s following words after that are always omitted in our materialistic British media. Harry, like so many in the war, said that he’d lost his faith in the Church, but he went on to say [5 years ago] that after the death of that soldier:

“And when that fellah died, he just said one word: ‘Mother.’ It wasn’t a cry of despair. It was a cry of surprise and joy. I think – although I wasn’t allowed to see her – I am sure his mother was in the next world to welcome him. And he knew it. I was just allowed to see that much and no more. And from that day until today – and now I’m nearly 106 years old – I shall always remember that cry and I shall always remember that death is not the end. You’ve got a memory. You’ve got a brain about the size of a tea cup. I’ve got a memory that goes back for 80 or 90 years and I think that memory goes on with you when you die. And that’s my opinion. Death is not the end.”

“We can only find our way back to real thinking by filling our inner soul life with substance and this substance can only come from knowledge of the spiritual world.” (Steiner)

Everyone remarked that Harry Patch sat straight up and was alert and clear thinking until the very end of his 111 years.

And today? How many times have we heard of the shoddy treatment of British soldiers by the Establishment that is sending them to die in Helmand? The poor, insufficient equipment. The substandard condition of accommodation for soldiers and their families. The fact that private soldiers earn less than traffic wardens.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jun/06/military.pay  (2007 figures)   

British army private on active service: £18,547

Traffic warden:                                  £20,526

Prison Officer                                     £23,324  

Meanwhile, in addition to the usual British imperial tactic of seeking to bribe and divide the enemy, the Establishment has reacted to the death of Harry Patch by announcing  a grand state memorial for the generation that fought the Great War, a great empty jamboree of the kind of solemn pomp the British love so much :


Coming After the recent deaths of Britain’s last three servicemen from the Great War  [Dr Martin Farr, a senior lecturer in history at Newcastle University] thought the service would “mark the Last Post for the First World War”. It would act as “almost a balm that this highly traumatic event has passed a very symbolic, but also very real milestone,” he explained.

A balm indeed…..so now, as with the inquest into the death of Princess Diana, after ‘the balm’ has been administered, we will be expected to shut up about the First World War, ‘out of respect’ for the fallen and stop thinking about what actually caused all that slaughter. We shall be expected to accept – as our children are being programmed by the BBC to accept in school the kind of utterly prejudiced explanation given by the likes of Dr Gary Sheffield on the BBC website. It is understandable that, given his awful experiences, Harry Patch said: “World War One is history, it isn’t news. Forget it.”

But no, that we cannot do, and I am sure that on the other side of the threshold, Harry will understand that. Until the British establishment  – and indeed, so many of the British people – abandon their addiction to global power and their imperial ‘habits’, and beyond that, WE SHALL REMEMBER THE FALLEN OF THE GREAT WAR AND THE REASONS WHY THEY DIED.

Terry Boardman

This page was created 30.7.2009  Last updated 14.2.2014