Last Veteran Of World War I Dies At 110
The last veteran of World War I was a waitress, and for 90 years no one knew her name.
Florence Green, a member of Britain’s Royal Air Force who was afraid of flying, died in England on Saturday, two weeks shy of her 111th birthday. She was believed to have been the war’s last living veteran — the last anywhere of the tens of millions who served.
Mrs. Green, who joined the R.A.F. as a teenager shortly before war’s end, worked in an officer’s mess on the home front. Her service was officially recognized only in 2010, after a researcher unearthed her records in Britain’s National Archives.
That Mrs. Green went unrecognized for so long owes partly to the fact that she served under her maiden name, Florence Patterson, and partly to the fact that she conducted herself, by all accounts, with proper British restraint, rarely if ever flaunting her service.
It also owes to the fact that her life followed the prescribed trajectory for women of her era: by the time the 20th century had run its course, Mrs. Green had long since disappeared into marriage, motherhood and contented anonymity.
With the death in May of Claude Stanley Choules, an Englishman who served aboard a Royal Navy battleship, Mrs. Green became the last known person, male or female, to have served in the war on either side.
Her death, at a nursing home in King’s Lynn, in eastern England, was announced on the Web site of the Order of the First World War, an organization based in Florida that keeps track of veterans.
In the spate of interviews she gave after her existence was discovered, Mrs. Green expressed quiet pride in her service. She also recalled approvingly the courtly behavior of the officers she served.
“It was very pleasant, and they were lovely,” she once told an interviewer. “Not a bit of bother.”
But though she was aware of her historical position as the war’s last veteran, Mrs. Green was philosophical about the war itself, one of the defining events of modern history, in which more than 20 million people died.
“It seems,” she remarked to The Independent last year, on the occasion of her 110th birthday, “like such a long time ago now.”
The daughter of Frederick Patterson and the former Sarah Neal, Florence Beatrice Patterson was born in London on Feb. 19, 1901, and moved to King’s Lynn as child.
In September 1918, two months before the war ended, Florence, then 17, joined the Women’s Royal Air Force. An auxiliary branch of the R.A.F., it had been created not long before to help free men for combat duty by recruiting women to work as mechanics and drivers and in other noncombat jobs.
Mrs. Green’s wartime experience remained unsung until 2009, when an English newspaper, The Lynn News and Advertiser, wrote about her 108th birthday. Andrew Holmes, a British researcher for the Gerontology Research Group, an American organization that keeps statistics on people who live well past 100, then located her service records in the National Archives, resulting in Mrs. Green’s recognition as a veteran the next year.
At her funeral next week, The Associated Press reported, the Union Jack will drape the coffin.
Given the extent to which World War One shaped the years and the world that followed it, it’s almost hard to believe that it’s reached the point that the Civil War had 50 years ago and that, before long, there will be nobody alive who remembers it.