Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Oldest Man in Britain

Henry William Allingham celebrated his 112th birthday a few days ago, and there has been a lot of coverage in the media to mark the event. As the years have passed Allingham has himself become a celebrity. He is the oldest surviving member of the British armed forces and holds the record for being Europe's oldest living man as well as being the joint second-oldest living man in the world. In June 2008 he was verified as one of the 20 oldest people in the world.

Since 2001 he has become the face of the World War I Veterans Association and makes frequent public appearances to ensure that the horrors of World War I are not forgotten. He is the recipient of many awards and honours, and between his 110th and 111th birthdays made over 60 public appearances. Years after his wife died, he lived on his own, but then in May 2006, one month before his 110th birthday and with failing eyesight, he moved to St Dunstan's near Brighton, a charity for blind ex-service personnel.

His general health is apparently good, although sometimes he is confined to a wheelchair. Visitors remark on the quality of his memory and the fluency of his voice (there is an interview with him on U Tube). Between his 110th and 111th birthdays, he made over 60 public appearances, many of them associated with ceremonies of remembrance. He celebrated his 112th birthday with members of his family at RAF Cranwell, being the guest of honour at a luncheon at the College. During the day the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight performed a flypast, which was followed by an acrobatic display from two aircraft, both of which he greatly enjoyed. His war record makes him famous, but it’s his longevity that brings distinction to it. He seems to relish being so old, and has the advantage of immense emotional and practical support denied to many old people.

I have no ambition to equal his record. Eighty plus will be enough for me. I was talking to someone this afternoon. ‘I am 90’, she said. I asked her what it felt like to be 90. ‘I don’t think about it’, she said. Which is probably good advice. And makes these blogs redundant!



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