Seen three centuries and still going strong
LAST month former Dagenham Ford worker and First World War veteran Henry Allingham reached a very impressive milestone – he became the oldest ever British man. He turned 112 years and 296 days on March 9, surpassing Welshman John Evans who died in 1990 ag
LAST month former Dagenham Ford worker and First World War veteran Henry Allingham reached a very impressive milestone - he became the oldest ever British man.
He turned 112 years and 296 days on March 9, surpassing Welshman John Evans who died in 1990 aged 112 years and 95 days.
Henry can lay claim to being one of only two surviving World War I veterans in the UK and the oldest Royal Navy veteran.
Today he lives at a care home in Brighton and can hardly hear or see, but incredibly he still finds the energy to visit schools to speak about his memories of the two world wars and remind youngsters about the terrible carnage they caused.
The son of a clerk in the family ironmongery business Henry was born in Upper Clacton on June 1896.
One of his earliest memories is of Queen Victoria's funeral in 1901, and then the following year sitting on his granddads shoulders to watch Edward VII's coronation procession.
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He also recalls spotting the first ever British airship fly over London and saw renowned cricketer WG Grace bat at the Oval.
At the age of 15 Henry left school and got himself a job with a car and coach builder.
When war descended on Europe in 1914, the young lad wanted to join up and do his bit as a dispatch rider, but his critically-ill mother persuaded him to remain at home.
But when she died the next year, he decided to enlist with the Royal Naval Air Service.
After graduating as a skilled mechanic Henry was posted to the RNAS Air Station in Great Yarmouth.
Here he kept planes airworthy and went on flying patrols over the North Sea, which, considering the unreliability of these early aircraft, was a pretty risky job.
In 1916 Henry joined the HMT Kingfisher, where he was responsible for looking after a seaplane used to keep an eye out for the German High Seas Fleet.
From the ship he witnessed the Battle of Jutland and recalls seeing "shells ricocheting across the sea."
The following year he was drafted to the Western Front to join No 12 Squadron of the RNAS. Here he serviced and rescued aircraft that had crashed behind the trenches.
A few months later Henry was posted to the Aircraft Depot in Dunkirk where he remained for the rest of the war.
When the devastating conflict came to an end in 1919 Henry left the RNAS.
He soon married 22-year-old Dorothy Carter at a ceremony in Chingford and became the father of two girls.
In 1935 Henry embarked on a career at the Dagenham Ford plant, where he set to work as a design engineer.
Apart from working on a number of reserved occupation projects during WW2, he was to stay at the factory until his retirement in 1961.
Henry's biographer, Dennis Goodwin, says the veteran was 'extremely happy' at Ford.
"He is full of praise for the company and says they treated him very well during the years he was there," Mr Goodwin said.
"He still subcribes to the Ford Times magazine."
Despite being in charge of several chartered engineers during his time at Ford it was only last year that Henry became chartered himself.
After receiving his certificate from the Institute of Royal Engineers the 112-year-old said his "lifetime's goal was finally realised."
Like many veterans, for years Henry didn't talk about the wars, and even now he says: "I want to forget."
However, he was eventually persuaded that his memories could prove a vital tool in reminding later generations that the two wars came at a terrible cost.
The last few years of his life have been dedicated to travelling around schools to speak about his experiences, which he says has given him a sense of purpose.
"I owe it to those men who made the supreme sacrifice" he once said.
As he approaches his 113th birthday a few of you may wonder what the secret of his longevity could be. According to Henry it's "cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women - and a good sense of humour.