Page last updated at 16:33 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

Oldest veteran recalls end of war

By Robin Gibson
BBC South East

Henry Allingham
At the age of 112, Henry Allingham has limited hearing and sight

Henry Allingham is one of a tiny number of people left to tell the story of the moment the Great War ended.

He was on active duty with the Royal Navy Air Service in Flanders when World War I ended on 11 November 1918.

Speaking to BBC South East's Robin Gibson ahead of events to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of the war, he recalled how the day was marked.

"The fellows were going mad," he said.

"They were firing flares into the air - anything that went bang into the air.

"I crept off into a corner somewhere and got a good night's sleep for the first time in years."

He maintained that he was one of the lucky ones who survived.

Aged 112 he is now Britain's oldest person and, despite limited hearing and sight, he has dedicated his last years to telling the story of what he saw as a young man.

I don't know how those men did it. They were up to their knees in water all the time
Henry Allingham

"You try to forget, you want to forget, but you couldn't forget," he said.

"Those men must not be forgotten ever. They sacrificed everything on my behalf, and your behalf as well."

Mr Allingham was speaking as the death of another World War I veteran was announced.

Sydney Maurice Lucas, who was born in Leicester, died on Tuesday in his home town near Melbourne, in Australia, at the age of 108.

'Lice-infested'

Mr Allingham said he vividly remembered recovering aircraft from shell holes on the Western Front inhabited by "rats as big as cats".

He also described how everyone serving in the mud became infested with lice.

"Water was hard to come by, you couldn't get a bath," he said.

By the time the war was over he had witnessed the greatest naval battle in history at Jutland in 1916 as well as the Battle of the Somme.

Henry Allingham
Henry Allingham's mother did not want him to go to war in 1914

But as an air mechanic, Mr Allingham did not have to endure trench warfare.

"I don't know how those men did it," he said.

"They were up to their knees in water all the time."

Remarkably Mr Allingham lived in his own home in Eastbourne until 2006, and is now a resident at St Dunstan's, the centre for blind disabled ex-servicemen, at Ovingdean, near Brighton.

His father died when he was just 14 months old and he was raised in London by his mother and grandparents.

His mother stopped her teenage son from volunteering as a despatch rider when war broke out in 1914, and it was only after she died that he joined the Royal Navy Air Service, later becoming a founding member of the Royal Air Force.

Mr Allingham remains blunt about his future and says candidly that he cannot expect to go on forever.

"I mean at this age... I've got to give way some way," he said.

He cannot explain the secrets behind his long life - but has said it could have something to do with "whisky, and wild, wild women".

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SEE ALSO
World War I veteran dies aged 108
06 Nov 08 |  Leicestershire
Oldest veteran visits Eurofighter
28 Jun 08 |  Lancashire
Britain's oldest man reaches 112
06 Jun 08 |  England

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