Friday, 22 May 2009
No, this is definitely not an obituary. Dr. Henry Allingham is very much alive
and on 6th June will become a teenager again on the occasion of his 113th birthday. Britain's oldest war veteran, this is a man whose life has spanned three centuries and who remembers Queen Victoria’s funeral. Henry grew up in East London and joined the Royal Naval Air Service as an engineer in 1915 . He was to see action in the Battle of the Somme, one of the most traumatic and ghastly of World War I, and the naval Battle of Jutland.
Henry Allingham is an intelligent, humorous and compassionate man. In recent years, since he was 100, he has been committed to educating schoolchildren about the sacrifice and horror of two world wars. I had the honour of meeting him today when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in engineering at the Maritime Training School of Southampton Solent University.
He made a notable contribution to the early days of naval aviation and to magnetic mine counter-measures in World War II but he always regretted that he never had the opportunity to become a chartered engineer. That omission was made good today, recognising not just a fine career but an inspiring life as well.
Henry arrived by train from Sussex and was cheered by rail passengers on Fareham station. He was accompanied by his nurse and his two remarkable carers Dennis and Brenda Goodwin. The old man referred to his 82 year old companion as Dennis The Menace - a soldier who no doubt was a real menace to the Japanese in the ferocious Burma Campaign of the 1940s.
The ceremony was charged with emotion as Van Gore the Vice Chancellor of Southampton Solent University read out an impressive citation and the Chancellor, Admiral The Lord West of Spithead, presented Henry Allingham with his award. You never saw a man more proud or happy.
On my knees to pay tribute to an extraordinary man.
Thanks to Rear Admiral John Lang for these photos.
Do watch this You Tube clip of Henry at 110. Be amazed, amused and humbled.