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Henry Allingham, 1896 - 2009

World's oldest man and an outspoken WWI veteran

July 20, 2009|Associated Press

Henry Allingham, at 113 the world's oldest man and a World War I veteran who spent his final years reminding Britain about the 9 million soldiers killed on all sides during the conflict, died Saturday at a care home in Ovingdean, near Brighton on England's south coast.

Allingham was the last surviving original member of the Royal Air Force, which was formed in 1918. He made it a personal crusade to talk about a conflict that wiped out much of a generation.

"I want everyone to know," he told the Associated Press during an interview in November. "They died for us."

Only a handful of World War I veterans remain of the estimated 68 million mobilized. There are no French veterans left alive; just one left now in Britain; and the last living American-born veteran is Frank Woodruff Buckles of Charles Town, W.Va. The man believed to have been Germany's last surviving soldier has also died.

Born June 6, 1896, Allingham left school at 15 and was working in a car factory in east London when the war broke out in 1914.

He spent the war's first months refitting trucks for military use and then decided to join up in 1915 after seeing a plane circling a reservoir in Essex, east of London.

"It was a captivating sight," he wrote in his memoir. "Fascinated, I sat down on the grass verge to watch the aircraft. I decided that was for me."

Only a dozen years after the Wright brothers first put up their plane, Allingham and other airmen set out from eastern England on motorized kites made with wood, linen and wire. They piled on clothes and smeared their faces with Vaseline, whale oil or engine grease to block the cold.

As a mechanic, Allingham's job was to maintain the rickety craft. He also flew as an observer on a biplane. At first, his weaponry consisted of a standard issue Lee Enfield .303 rifle -- sometimes two. Parachutes weren't issued.

He fought in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War I, and he served on the Western Front, by then armed with a machine gun.

After the war, Allingham worked at a Ford motor factory and raised two children with his wife, Dorothy. She died in 1970.

He co-wrote an autobiography, "Kitchener's Last Volunteer" -- a reference to Britain's war secretary who rallied men to the cause -- and was made an officer of France's Legion of Honor.

Allingham is survived by five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, 14 great-great grandchildren and one great-great-great grandchild.

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news.obits@latimes.com

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