On this day in history : 6th June 1896 – The birth of Henry Allingham – the WW1 veteran who was to become a supercentenarian and officially the longest-lived man ever from the United Kingdom….

Henry as an infant, 1890s – Public domain

Henry was born in Clapton, London and he was only 14 months old when his father died from TB…. His mother, Amy Jane – a laundress – returned to live with her parents and brother and so Henry spent his early childhood living in Walthamstow…. His mother remarried in 1905 and the family settled in Clapham…. On leaving school Henry found employment at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital as a trainee surgical instrument maker – but it wasn’t work that inspired him and so he found a job with a company specialising in building car bodywork….

When World War Once broke out Henry was keen to join up immediately but by then his mother was ill…. She died in 1915 and it was after this that he joined the Royal Naval Air Service…. After training he was posted to Great Yarmouth, where he carried out aircraft maintenance – before finding himself in Norfolk, involved with anti-submarine patrols…. Eventually, in September 1917, he was sent to the Western Front to join No.12 Squadron RNAS and in the November was posted to the aircraft depot at Dunkirk – where he spent the remainder of the War….

Henry in RNAS uniform, 1916 – Public domain

He met Dorothy Carr in 1918, in Great Yarmouth and they were married in Romford later that same year…. They were to have two daughters, Betty in 1920 followed by Jean in 1923…. Henry was formally discharged to the RAF Reserve in 1919….

After the War Henry returned to his engineering work in the car industry – working for companies such as Thorns Car Body Makers and Vickers General Motors – before ending up at Ford, in their recently opened Dagenham plant…. He remained at Ford until his retirement in 1961 and then he and Dorothy moved to Eastbourne on the South Coast – where Dorothy died in 1971 of lymphatic leukaemia….

In October 2003, at the age of 107, Henry helped launched the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal…. In August 2004 he joined three other WW1 veterans for a ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Britain entering the War – by now Henry was the last surviving member of the RNAS…. He also attended the Remembrance Sunday Parade the following year….

He was awarded the Freedom of Eastbourne in April 2006 – the town where he managed to live at home by himself until the following month…. He was still in generally good health but his eyesight was failing – and so in May 2006, a month before his 110th birthday, he moved into a care home near Brighton for blind ex-service personnel run by Blind Veterans UK….

Despite his eyesight Henry made some 60 public appearances over the next year…. In November 2007 he became the longest-lived member of the British Armed Forces and the longest-lived WW1 veteran…. Then on the 19th of June 2009 he officially became the oldest living man in the world…. He was the first British man to reach the verified age of 113…. He put his longevity down to “cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women – and a good sense of humour”….

Henry died in his sleep at his care home on the 18th of July 2009….

Henry Allingham, 2006 – Public domain

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