Page last updated at 07:10 GMT, Saturday, 18 July 2009 08:10 UK

Obituary: Henry Allingham

Henry Allingham portrait
The last surviving founding member of the RAF

Cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women was Henry Allingham's tongue in cheek recipe for his long life, which crossed over three centuries.

He was born in east London in June 1896 and brought up by his mother and grandparents following the death of his father, from TB, in 1897.

After leaving school he obtained a job as a trainee surgical instrument maker but quickly moved into the motor trade where he worked building car bodies.

In 1914 he tried to join the Army as a despatch rider but his mother, who was ill, persuaded him to stay at home and nurse her.

She died a few months afterwards, age 42, and Henry, who later remembered feeling completely alone and with no purpose in life, joined the fledgling Royal Naval Air Service as a mechanic.

After his training he was posted to Great Yarmouth, where he maintained sea planes involved in anti submarine patrols in the North Sea and acted as an air gunner in operations to counter German Zeppelins.

He was drafted on to HM trawler Kingfisher which headed north, in May 1916, as part of the British force sent to intercept the German High Seas Fleet at Jutland.

Warship at the battle of Jutland
The Battle of Jutland ended the threat of the German fleet

In what became the only major naval battle of the war, the British lost 14 ships and more than 6,000 lives, but the German fleet never again threatened to put to sea against the Royal Navy.

Allingham later recalled watching shells flying across the sea. "There were a lot of dud shells and that saved us from a lot of harm."

In 1917 he was posted to the Western Front where the RNAS was tasked with supporting squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps which was operating sorties over the battlefields of the Somme.

He found himself in the trenches where he was ordered to neutralise the booby trapped bombs left behind by the retreating German soldiers.

On the Western Front

He never forgot the conditions on the ground. He later recalled being up to his armpits in water with the smell of mud and rotting flesh all around him.

In November 1917 he was posted to an aircraft recovery depot at Dunkirk where he stayed for the remainder of the war. Even here, behind the lines, he was subject to German bombing raids and shellfire from the sea.

Six months later he was transferred to the newly formed Royal Air Force after the merger of the RFC and the naval air service.

After his discharge from the RAF he went to work for the Ford Motor Company where he remained until he retired.

His engineering expertise was called into use again in World War II where he worked on a project designed to neutralise German magnetic mines.

Since 1918 he had buried his memories of the war, avoiding reunions and refusing to discuss the subject with his family.

Henry Allingham lays a wreath
He never forgot the sacrifice of his comrades who failed to return

But, in 2005, he was persuaded to unveil an RAF memorial in France and he decided it would have been disrespectful to his former comrades to refuse.

For the remainder of his life he was tireless in attending commemorative events, including the 90th anniversary of the Somme, and regularly spoke to schoolchildren about his wartime experiences.

On his visit to the Somme in 2006 he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. "I don't," he said, "I want to be forgotten. Remember the others."

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