Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tales of WWI, Related By The Last Few

One of the veterans being Henry Allingham, at 112 years old Europe's oldest man.

Mr Allingham was born in 1896 when Queen Victoria was still on the throne and powered flight was still more than six years away.

His hearing or eyesight might not be what it was, but according to those who care for him at the blind ex-serviceman's charity, St Dunstan's, he still enjoys a joke and his mind is as sharp as ever.

Astonishingly, Mr Allingham can still recall seeing WG Grace playing cricket in 1903. He also remembers the frightening sight of shells ricocheting across the sea during the Battle of Jutland, which was fought off the coast of Denmark in the North Sea in June 1916.

The following year, having survived the battle, which claimed the lives of more than 6,000 British sailors, Mr Allingham was posted to the Western Front where he helped to prepare aircrews for the Ypres Offensive and flew in the rear cockpit of aircraft armed with two rifles and later a Lewis Gun and a bag of bombs.

On April 1, 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the RNAS were merged into the Royal Air Force and today he is the oldest surviving member of the service.

Put in context, Mr Allingham's longevity seems almost impossible. He was born 48 years to the day before the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and Britain has had six monarchs and 21 Prime Ministers in the 112 years that he has been alive. His two daughters, Jean and Betty, died decades ago and his grandson, David Gray, is now 60.

Another of the vets is Harry Patch:

Mr Patch was too old to fight in the Second World War and instead worked as a sanitary engineer in an American camp in southern England.

But despite being something of a national hero, the 110-year-old former private in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry is not proud of his longevity.

"I don't like it," he said last year in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. "I sit there and think. And some nights I dream – of that first battle. I can't forget it.

"I fell in a trench. There was a fella there. He must have been about our age. He was ripped shoulder to waist with shrapnel. I held his hand for the last 60 seconds of his life. He only said one word: 'Mother'. I didn't see her, but she was there. No doubt about it. He passed from this life into the next, and it felt as if I was in God's presence. I've never got over it. You never forget it. Never."

No comments: