World’s oldest man passes away
LONDON: The world’s oldest man, 113-year-old World War I veteran Henry Allingham, died today after spending his final years reminding Britain about the 9 million soldiers killed during the conflict.
Allingham was the last surviving original member of the Royal Air Force, which was formed in 1918. He made it a personal crusade to talk about a conflict that wiped out much of a generation. Though nearly blind, he would take the outstretched hands of visitors in both of his, gaze into the eyes of children, veterans and journalists and deliver a message he wanted them all to remember.
“I want everyone to know,” he told The Associated Press during an interview in November. “They died for us.” Only a handful of World War I veterans remain of the estimated 68 million mobilised. There are no French veterans left alive; the last living American-born veteran is Frank Woodruff Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia.
“It’s the end of a era - a very special and unique generation,” said Allingham’s longtime friend, Dennis Goodwin, who confirmed Allingham’s death. “The British people owe them a great deal of gratitude.” Born June 6, 1896, Allingham left school at 15 and was working in a car factory in east London when war broke out in 1914.
He spent the war’s first months refitting trucks for military use, but when his mother died in June 1915, he decided to join up after seeing a plane circling a reservoir in Essex, east of London.
“It was a captivating sight,” he wrote in his memoir.
“Fascinated, I sat down on the grass verge to watch the aircraft. I decided that was for me.”
Only a dozen years after the Wright brothers first put up their plane, Allingham and other airmen set out from eastern England on motorised kites made with wood, linen and wire. They piled on clothes and smeared their faces in Vaseline, whale oil or engine grease to block the cold.
He also flew as an observer on a biplane. At first, his weaponry consisted of a standard issue Lee Enfield .303 rifle — sometimes two. Parachutes weren’t issued.