Harry Patch was an inspiration

PUBLISHED: 10:12 31 December 2009 | UPDATED: 12:31 10 June 2010

In July this year, Harry Patch, the last Tommy, passed away. In his 111 years, he witnessed enormous changes.

In July this year, Harry Patch, the last Tommy, passed away. In his 111 years, he witnessed enormous changes.

He was born in 1898, five years before the Wright brothers flew the first airplane, and he was in his early 70s when Neil Armstrong took that famous first step on the moon. As he reached 110, space tourism was becoming a realistic prospect.

However, the changes that have most affected the lives of ordinary people in the last 100 years have been more down-to-earth. In 1900, healthcare was provided by a patchwork of private, charity and municipal schemes. Infant mortality was one in seven.

Now we have the National Health Service and infant mortality is less than one in 200. In 1900, only one per cent of the population was able to pursue its dreams by attending university, now 33 per cent have the opportunity to better themselves through further education.

In 1900, women were denied the vote and many opportunities were closed to them. Now they have the right to vote and they occupy senior positions in every profession. In 1900, life expectancy was less than 50 years. It is now around 80 years.

Whether we make similar progress in the next 100 years depends on how we deal with the considerable issues facing the world, particularly when times are tough.

Harry Patch fought in the First World War and experienced the great slump when our economy shrunk by 25 per cent and there was 20 per cent unemployment for a decade. He lived through the Second World War, which claimed 70 million lives, and a cold war which threatened to kill all of us.

Things have not always been easy, but previous generations never gave up. Collectively, they bore the burden and made the world a better place.

We should all take inspiration from Harry Patch and all those like him who gave of themselves so that we can enjoy our relatively prosperous and peaceful lives. I ask that we all continue to find the strength, courage and conviction to make the world a better place.

Have a happy Christmas and a fabulous New Year.

Gareth Manson,

Prospective Labour Party MP for East Devon.

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