RNAS survivor - Celebrating the 110th birthday of Britain's oldest man - Henry Allingham
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Posted by: stringbagUK
06/06/2006, 21:33:58

We congratulate Henry Allingham, who has just been celebrating his 110th birthday in style.

Henry Allingham, the last surviving founder member of the Royal Naval Air Service and a founding member of the Royal Air Force, was treated to a fly past by two RAF Tornados. The First World War veteran also received a letter of good wishes from the Queen and a visit by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Mr Brown joined Veterans' Minister Tom Watson and about 15 members of Mr Allingham's family at Eastbourne's five-star Grand Hotel.

Mr Allingham - wearing a smart navy blue suit adorned with military medals including the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest military honour - smiled broadly as he was presented with the Queen's letter.

It read: "I send my warm congratulations on the celebration of your 110th birthday on the June 6 2006. May your celebration be particularly happy and memorable."

Asked whether he thought he would ever reach 110, Mr Allingham said: "Never. I really never thought about it. I have just lived from day to day.

Mr Allingham served as a Royal Naval Air Service mechanic, flying patrols of the North Sea as a navigator and repairing aircraft and engines at the battles of the Somme and Ypres.

He became formally rated as an Air Mechanic Second Class on September 21, 1915 and was posted to Chingford before completing his training.

After graduation, Henry joined the RNAS Air Station at Great Yarmouth. On April 13, 1916, King George V inspected the Air Station and its aircraft. Henry was disappointed when the king turned and left just before he would have had his chance to speak to him.

"It was the first time I went near a plane," he said, pointing out that the first powered flight in the world had only taken place a handful of years earlier.

He remembers the plane he flew in the war's opening months, "my baby" as he called it, with a degree of disbelief.

"They didn't have much speed with them. Sometimes they'd be coming along and the force of the wind would have you standing still. Sometimes you'd be flying backwards," he said.

"You'd have to have good weather to fly.

"There were two rifles in the cockpit, that was all the armaments we had."

Mr Allingham is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland in 1916, in which the British Grand Fleet established dominance of the North Sea, despite losing more ships on the day.

He said his ship, the Kingfisher, barely escaped destruction. A German shell ricocheted and was heading directly at the ship, when a stroke of luck handed the crew an incredible escape.

"It bounced over the top of the ship!" he said.

"Where it went I don't know but it was a saviour for us. If it hadn't [bounced], who knows, the whole ship would have been gone."

In September 1917, Henry, by now an Air Mechanic First Class, was posted to the Western Front to join No. 12 Squadron (RNAS). When the squadron arrived at Petite-Synthe, both the RFC and the RNAS were involved in the Ypres offensive.

On 12, November, 1917 he was posted to the Aircraft Depot at Dunkirk, where he stayed for the rest of the war, on aircraft repair and recovery duties.

He transferred to the Royal Air Force when the RNAS and the RFC were merged on 1 April, 1918.

He was awarded the freedom of his home town of Eastbourne by the mayor on 21 April, 2006. In May, he moved to St Dunstan's, a care home for ex-service personnel, in Ovingdean, near Brighton.


Also see previous entry celebrating the 90th anniversary of WW1

Also see the list of surviving WW1 veterans around the world.
Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Allingham

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