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Henry William Allingham (6 June 1896 – 18 July 2009) was a British supercentenarian, First World War veteran and, for one month, the oldest verified living man in the world. On 13 February 2007, he became the UK's second-oldest living person, behind Florrie Baldwin, and on 29 March 2009, he became the oldest ever British male, surpassing Welshmanmarker John Evans who died aged 112 years and 295 days. He was also the first ever verified British man to reach the age of 113. Guinness World Records confirmed that at age 113 years, 13 days, he became the oldest living man in the world, following the death of Japanese supercentenarian Tomoji Tanabe on 19 June 2009. On 18 July 2009, Allingham died of natural causes aged 113 years and 42 days. At the time of his death, he was the 14th oldest verified man of all time.

Allingham was the oldest ever surviving member of any of the British Armed Forces and the oldest surviving veteran of the First World War. He was the last survivor of the Battle of Jutlandmarker, the last surviving member of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the last surviving founding member of the Royal Air Force (RAF). From 2001 he had become the face of the First World War veterans' association and made frequent public appearances to ensure that awareness of the sacrifices of the First World War was not lost to modern generations. He received many honours and awards for his First World War service and his longevity.

Pre-First World War

Allingham as an infant
Allingham was born in 1896 in Claptonmarker, County of London. When he was 14 months old, his father died of tuberculosis. Brought up by his mother and grandparents, the family moved to Claphammarker, London, in 1907 and attended a London County Council school. Allingham remembered seeing the City Imperial Volunteers return from the Second Boer War, and also recalled watching W. G. Grace playing cricket, around 1903-05. On leaving school, Allingham started work as a trainee surgical instrument maker at Bart's Hospitalmarker. He did not find this job very interesting, and so left to work for a coachbuilder specialising in car bodies.

First World War

Allingham in RNAS uniform in 1916


Allingham wanted to join the war effort in August 1914 as a despatch rider, but his critically ill mother managed to persuade him to stay at home and look after her. However, after his mother died in 1915, Allingham enlisted with the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). He became formally rated as an Air Mechanic Second Class on 21 September 1915, and was posted to Chingfordmarker before completing his training at Sheernessmarker, Kentmarker. His RNAS serial number was RNAS F8317.

After graduation, Allingham was posted to the RNAS Air Station at Great Yarmouthmarker where his job was aircraft maintenance. On 13 April 1916, King George V inspected the air station and its aircraft. He was disappointed when the king turned and left just before he would have had a chance to speak to him. Allingham also worked in Bacton, Norfolkmarker, further up the coast, where night-flying was conducted.

Allingham was involved in supporting anti-submarine patrols. A typical patrol would last two or three days and would involve the manual labour of hoisting a seaplane in and out of the water by means of a deck-mounted derrick.

Sopwith Schneider
In the run-up to what has become known as the Battle of Jutlandmarker, Allingham was ordered to join the naval trawler HMT Kingfisher. Onboard was a Sopwith Schneider seaplane that was used to look out for the Germanmarker High Seas Fleet. Allingham's responsibilities included helping to launch the aircraft. Although the Kingfisher was not directly involved in the battle (it shadowed the British Grand Fleet and then the High Seas Fleet), Allingham still rightfully claimed to be the last known survivor of that battle and can recall "seeing shells ricocheting across the sea."

In September 1917, Allingham, by now an Air Mechanic First Class, was posted to the Western Front to join No. 12 Squadron RNAS. This unit acted as a training squadron for other RNAS squadrons based on the Western Front. There is also some evidence that the squadron was involved in combat operations. When Allingham arrived at Petite-Synthemarker, both the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the RNAS were involved in the Ypresmarker offensive. Allingham also instrumented the very first reconnaissance aircraft camera during the First World War. On 3 November 1917, he was posted to the aircraft depot at Dunkirkmarker, Francemarker where he remained for the rest of the war, on aircraft repair and recovery duties. He recalls being bombed from the air and shelled from both the land and the sea.

He transferred to the Royal Air Force when the RNAS and the RFC were merged on 1 April 1918. At that time he was ranked as a Rigger Aero, Aircraft Mechanic Second Class and was given a new service number: 208317. At the time of his death he was believed to be the last surviving founding member of the RAF. Allingham returned to the Home Establishment in February 1919 and was formally discharged to the RAF Reserve on 16 April 1919.

Inter-war years

Career

In addition to his military service as a mechanic, Allingham spent the vast majority of his professional life as an engineer. His employers included Thorns Car Body Makers, Vickers General Motors and H.J.M. Car Body Builders.

He started his longest stretch of employment in 1934 designing new car bodies for the Ford Motor Company at their Dagenhammarker plant which had only opened a few years previously in 1931.

Family life

Allingham met Dorothy Cator (1895–1970) in Great Yarmouthmarker, Norfolk in 1918. They married the same year in Romfordmarker, when she was 22. They moved to Eastbournemarker, Sussexmarker in 1960 and remained married until she died there from acute and chronic lymphatic leukemia. They had two daughters, Betty (born 1920) and Jean (1923-2001). Jean emigrated to the United Statesmarker and died aged 78 in 2001. At the time of his death Allingham believed that Betty had died. He had lost touch with her in the 1970s following a family rift after the death of his wife in 1970. In fact Betty Hankin was still alive aged 89 when her father died, and living in Stroudmarker, Gloucestershiremarker. In addition to his one remaining daughter Betty, at the time of his death Allingham had seven grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, 14 great-great-grandchildren, 2 great-great-great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great-great-great-grandchild.

Second World War

During the Second World War, Allingham was in a reserved occupation and worked on a number of projects. The most significant of these was perhaps the effort to provide an effective counter-measure to the German magnetic mine. During his Christmas lunch in 1939 he was called away to help come up with a system that would neutralise the mines and open the port of Harwichmarker, Essex. Nine days later, he had successfully completed the task.

After the Second World War

The Cenotaph in London at which Allingham attended ceremonies on 4 August 2004 and 11 November 2008, marking the 90th anniversary of the start and end of World War One
Allingham continued to work for Ford. He retired in 1960. After Denis Goodwin of the First World War Veterans' Association tracked him down in 2001, Allingham took a prominent role in telling his story so that later generations would not forget. The 2003 Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal was launched on 16 October 2003, by Henry Allingham and model Nell McAndrew aboard the cruiser . He was quoted as saying "They (the veterans) have given all they have got for the country ... I owe them ... we all owe them."

A ceremony at the Cenotaphmarker in Whitehall, Londonmarker on 4 August 2004, marked the 90th anniversary of Britain's entry into the First World War. This was attended by three other First World War veterans as well as Allingham. They were William Stone, Fred Lloyd and John Oborne. Allingham also marched past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in 2005 and laid wreaths at memorials in Saint-Omermarker on Armistice Day. That was the last time that a First World War veteran marched past the Cenotaph and it marked the end of an era. No First World War veterans were present at the Cenotaph for the 2006 Remembrance Sunday Parade.

As the last surviving member of the RNAS, and the last living founder member of the RAF, Allingham was an honoured guest when the British Air Services Memorial was unveiled at Saint-Omermarker on 11 September 2004. The group of RAF technical trainees that joined him at this ceremony continued to visit Allingham at his retirement home in Eastbourne, demonstrating the bond of respect that these men had for Mr. Allingham, made even more remarkable since almost 90 years separated these young trainees from himself. During this time, Allingham was given the Gold Medal of Saint-Omer, which marked the award of the Freedom of the Town.

Allingham was invited by the International Holographic Portrait Archive to have his holographic portrait taken in November 2005, an offer which was accepted. His image was recorded for posterity in December 2005. At the same time, an exhibition was being planned for London's floating naval museum on board HMS Belfast, entitled the Ghosts of Jutland. A copy of this portrait was donated to the museum and HRH The Duchess of Gloucester unveiled the portrait to mark the opening of the exhibition.

He was awarded the freedom of his home town of Eastbourne by the mayor on 21 April 2006. He lived on his own until May 2006 when, one month before his 110th birthday and with failing eyesight, he moved to St Dunstan's, a charity for blind ex-service personnel, at Ovingdeanmarker, near Brightonmarker. Aside from this, he was reportedly in good health, with visitors remarking on his memory and voice.Allingham attended the 1 July 2006 commemorations at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missingmarker. He did not attend the 2006 Remembrance Day parade on 11 November at the Cenotaph as he was in France at a wreath-laying ceremony and to receive the Freedom of The Town of Saint-Omer. He did, however, launch the Eastbourne Poppy Appeal before leaving for this trip.

On 18 April 2007 Allingham visited Wilnecote High Schoolmarker in Tamworthmarker, Staffordshire to answer students' questions about the First World War, after they wrote to veterans asking them about their experiences. In October 2007 he was honoured at the Pride of Britain Awards. Between his 110th and 111th birthdays Allingham made over 60 public appearances, including a visit to The Ovalmarker on 5 June 2007 (the day before his 111th birthday), where he was wheeled around the boundary in front of the spectators.

On his 111th birthday, a Royal Marines band serenaded Allingham on board before he returned with friends and relatives to the Queen's Hotel on Portsmouthmarker seafront for afternoon tea. Asked how it felt, Allingham replied, "I'm pleased to be seeing another tomorrow. It's just the same as it was as at any age, it's no different. I'm happy to be alive and I'm looking forward to the celebrations. I never imagined I'd get to 111."

On 1 April 2008, the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Air Force, Allingham was guest of honour at the celebratory events at RAF Odihammarker in Hampshire. At that time, Allingham was the only surviving founder member of the RAF.

Allingham celebrated his 112th birthday with members of his family at RAF Cranwellmarker, Lincolnshiremarker being the guest of honour at a luncheon at the collegemarker. During the day the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performed a flypast which was followed by an acrobatic display from two Tutor aircraft. In June 2008, at his personal request, Allingham was taken on a personal guided tour of the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft at BAE Systemsmarker in Wartonmarker, Lancashiremarker, as part of the National Veterans' Day celebrations.

On 23 September 2008, Allingham launched a book about his life co-written with Denis Goodwin, with an event at the RAF Clubmarker in London.On 11 November 2008, marking the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War, together with Harry Patch and Bill Stone, Allingham laid a commemorative wreath for the Act of Remembrance at The Cenotaph in London. Allingham was invested as a Scout on 18 November, 2008, 100 years after he first joined as a youth. He said he was only able to spend six weeks with his local group as a boy. Allingham celebrated his 113th birthday on , hosted by the Royal Navy. He received a signed birthday card from First Sea Lord Sir Jonathon Band and saw a Mark 8 Royal Navy Lynx flying overhead while he was sitting outside in his wheelchair. When asked the secret of his long life, Allingham said: "I don't know, but I would say, be as good as you possibly can."

Oldest living man

Allingham credited "cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women – and a good sense of humour" for his longevity.

Allingham overtook George Frederick Ives as the longest lived member of the British Armed Forces on 1 November 2007. He was therefore the longest lived British First World War veteran to date.

Following the death of Tomoji Tanabe on 19 June 2009, Allingham became the oldest living man. At his death, he was the oldest living veteran of the First World War, but not the longest lived member of any armed force in any conflict; this record is held by Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, who also served in the First World War.

Allingham was the oldest living man in Englandmarker for several years. Official recognition by Guinness World Records came in January 2007. On 8 February 2007, with the death of 110-year-old Antonio Pierro, he became the oldest known living veteran of the First World War, as well as the third-oldest living man in the world. On 13 February 2007, he became the UK's second-oldest living person, behind Florrie Baldwin. Since the death of French supercentenarian Maurice Floquet on 10 November, 2006, Allingham was the oldest validated living man in Europe. The death of Japanesemarker man Sukesaburo Nakanishi on 22 August 2007 meant that from then Allingham shared the position of second-oldest man in the world with George Francis, an Americanmarker man also born on 6 June 1896, for more than a year until Francis' death on 27 December 2008. On 29 March 2009, Allingham became the oldest British man of all time. With the death of Tomoji Tanabe on 19 June 2009 he became the oldest living man in the world; after Allingham's death, that title passed to Walter Breuning of Montanamarker.

As the number of First World War veterans dwindled calls had been growing to give the last remaining veteran a state funeral. The calls resulted in Her Majesty's Government approving on 27 June 2006 a National Memorial Service at Westminster Abbeymarker to take place after the death of the last known British First World War veteran. Prior to this announcement Allingham often said that he tried not to think about the prospect, but has also been quoted as saying "I don't mind — as long as it's not me." Allingham received a letter from Member of Parliament Tom Watson on 14 July 2006 explaining the reasoning for a national memorial service rather than a state funeral, as the intention is to commemorate the entire generation that fought in the war rather than single out an individual.

In Harry Patch's book The Last Fighting Tommy, the author claims that Allingham planned to leave his body to medical science. In his own book Kitchener's Last Volunteer Allingham confirmed that he was intending to leave his body to medical science. However he was persuaded by Denis Goodwin to change his mind, as he became a symbol of World War I to remind people of the sacrifices made during the conflict. To that end he agreed to a funeral and cremation.

Awards

War medals and awards

The Officier Légion d'honneur.
Awarded to Allingham in 2009.
Allingham had four medals, two of which were medals from the First World War. In the image above, the Gold Medal of Saint-Omer is worn at the neck; it was awarded to Allingham on 11 September 2004 when he was given the Freedom of the Town of Saint-Omer. The lowermost medal is France's highest military award, the Légion d'honneur, in which he was appointed a chevalier in 2003 and promoted to officier to 2009. The remaining two medals are British Campaign Medals from the First World War. The leftmost award on his breast is the British War Medal and to its right is the Victory Medal; those two medals are colloquially known as "Mutt and Jeff". The two pictured medals are actually replacement medals supplied by the Ministry of Defence after discovering at a recent cenotaph parade that Allingham's original campaign medals were destroyed during the Blitz of the Second World War.

Honorary awards

As well as the above mentioned decorations, Allingham won several awards and honorary memberships. Examples include the Pride of Britain award, and being made an honorary member of the Fleet Air Arm Association.

Although not formally qualified he was recognised by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) who presented him with a Chartered Engineer award on 19 December 2008.

Allingham had the following to say about the award:

This was followed on 22 May 2009 with the award of an honorary doctorate in engineering at the Southampton Solent University by the university's chancellor, the former First Sea Lord Alan West, for his contribution to Britain and its allies during two world wars and his continuing charity work, especially connected with veteran servicemen and women.

Death

He died of natural causes in his sleep at 3:10 am on 18 July 2009 at his care home, St Dunstan's Centre in Ovingdeanmarker near Brighton, aged 113 years and 42 days.

Funeral

Henry Allingham's funeral cortège leaving St Dunstan's en route to St Nicholas' Church
Allingham's funeral took place at St Nicholas' Churchmarker, Brightonmarker at 12:00 on 30 July 2009, with full military honours. His coffin was carried by three Royal Navy seamen and three RAF airmen. The service was preceded by a half-muffled quarter peal on the church's bells, rung by local ringers and members of the RAF and Royal Navy change ringing associations. Among the mourners was the Duchess of Gloucester, representing the Queen, and Veteran's Minister Kevan Jones. Senior Royal Navy and Royal Air Force officers, including Vice-Admiral Sir Adrian Johns and Air Vice-Marshal Peter Dye, represented the two services of which Allingham had been a member. Allingham's surviving daughter, Betty Hankin, 89, attended the funeral, with several members of her family. The funeral was followed by a flypast of five replica First World War aircraft; British and French buglers played the Last Post and Reveille; and a bell was tolled 113 times, once for each year of his life.

The BBC commissioned Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, to write a poem to mark the deaths of Allingham and Harry Patch (who died one week after Allingham on 25 July 2009). The result, Last Post, was read by Duffy on the BBC Radio 4 programme Today on the day of Allingham's funeral.

See also



References

Notes

  1. Allingham and Goodwin, pp. 133-137
  2. Allingham and Goodwin, p. 137
  3. Allingham and Goodwin, p. 165
  4. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2008/04/01/founder-member-henry-allingham-on-the-raf-at-90-115875-20369232/
  5. (As of 19 July 2009, archive appears empty and current link obviously omits Allingham).
  6. Allingham and Goodwin, p. 172
  7. Allingham and Goodwin, p. 171


Autobiography



External links




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