WWI memorial stone Pictures: Simon Louagie/PA

Memorial Stone To 'Last Tommy' Found After Two Years Missing

The memorial stone went missing from a plinth in Belgium in 2018 and has only just been found.

WWI memorial stone Pictures: Simon Louagie/PA

A memorial stone dedicated to the last survivor of the First World War trenches has been found, two years after it disappeared from a plinth from Belgium.

Harry Patch, who died in 2009 aged 111, was the last surviving British soldier to have fought in the conflict and paid for the memorial stone himself.

The stone was unveiled to Mr Patch in 2008 at Langemarck, just six miles from Ypres where hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed.

Its location marks the spot where Mr Patch went over the top and disappeared in July 2018.

It was later replaced following a fundraising campaign.

The original stone remained lost for nearly two years until last month when a lorry driver claimed to have seen a local farmer reversing his tractor into the memorial stone, and then threatening to throw it into the Steenbeek stream.

British military historian Jeremy Banning claimed the lorry driver took it away and reported it to the police, but no action was taken.

Mr Banning said the lorry driver contacted Johan Vandewalle, owner of De Dreve cafe at Polygon Wood, in December, and offered to return the memorial to West Flanders.

It will now go on display at Mr Vandewalle's cafe until May, and will then be moved to a permanent home in the garden of the Talbot House Museum in Poperinge, which is dedicated to the soldiers who served in Ypres.

Harry patch PA File photo dated: 11/11/08
Harry Patch (left) at Downing Street in 2008 (Pictures: PA Images)

Mr Banning said it still remains unclear why it took so long for the stone to be brought back to them.

"Unbelievably, just before Christmas, I was called by Simon Louagie, from Talbot House, who told me the original memorial had turned up," he said.

"Why did that lorry driver then wait another year or more to admit he had it? He says he took it to the police.

"It transpires he got in touch with Johan, and it was only on Sunday that this guy brought it back and gave it to Johan and Simon.

"It's very strange. I don't think we'll ever quite get to the bottom of it," Mr Banning added.

I think it's one of those things we have to put down to 'Oh well, it's turned up now'."

Mr Banning said the Talbot House Museum was a safe place for the memorial stone to be permanently homed.

Harry Patch Memorial Missing
The spot at Longemarck where the memorial stone originally laid (Picture: Simon Louagie/PA).

"Talbot House was an everyman's club set up behind the lines, a home from home, where all ranks mixed. You could have a private sat next to a Major or a Colonel," he said.

"Harry went there in 1917 as a 19-year-old, went there again when he returned to the battlefields and loved the place. It has a real charm.

"He opened the new museum wing there during one of his return visits.

"He was not only the last surviving man of the trenches but the last surviving person who had originally been in Talbot House as a soldier," he said.

The Talbot House Museum is opening a new exhibition in May, when the stone arrives.

Cover image: The original memorial stone (Pictures: Simon Louagie/PA).