The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The End Of A Generation

Henry Allingham. Perhaps you have never heard of him and probably, if he was not 113 years when he died and the oldest man in the world, most of us probably never would. So why am I writing a post about a man that I have never met and had never heard of until he died on July 19? Because he is one of the last British survivors of the First World War. What distinguishes him more than his comrades is his longevity. If he had died 30 years ago, he would have been just another old person who crossed to the other side. But the fact that he lived so long made him famous and brought into perspective a generation that is all but gone. Last November, the world celebrated 90 years since the signing of the Armistice. The First World War was over. The 'war to end all wars' was at an end. For survivors like Henry, it must have been a bittersweet day. It must have felt exhilarating to be alive and yet none of those that survived would ever forget their comrades, dead before their time, buried in unmarked graves or in the cemeteries of France and Belgium. There must have been high hopes all over the world on that November day in 1919. Yet 20 years later, Europe was at war again in a conflict which soon embroiled the rest of the world.

Few of those that survived the horror of WW1 like to talk about it: about the mud in the trenches, the stench of gangrene, the horror of going over the trench to face enemy bullets, the barbed wire, the poison gas ... The list is endless. The names of those that died are all but forgotten except by their nearest and dearest and by their brothers-in-arms. My own great-grandfather was a survivor of the campaign in the Dardanelles. Sadly, he died before I was born. The only memory we have left of those days is one photo of him in uniform. Back home, my great-grandma, like countless other women, was left to look after the children and pray for his safe return. For those lucky enough to survive, like my great-grandfather and Henry Allingham, life eventually went on. Others left their youth in the mud of the trenches or the hot sands of the Dardanelles.

And what does today's generation know about that war that took place so long ago? Most would find it difficult to even remember the years when it took place, let alone the most important battles, such as the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of the Marne. Yet, perhaps, even remembering these facts is not as important as the gratitude we should have in our hearts for people like Henry Allingham, who left their country and all that they had ever loved and known, to go and do battle into the unknown, not knowing, until it was all over, whether they would be victor or loser, dead or alive. So, maybe sometimes we should put the history books aside and focus on the human aspect of war. Perhaps we should forget about the politics that caused it and remember: that it is to men like Henry Allingham and to all his comrades that we owe our Freedom.

Henry Allingham
1896 - 2009


  1. Thank you for a short tribute to Mr. Henry Allingham. I didn't know that he was the last veteran of WW1! Beautiful post!

  2. Very moving post Loree...Such a nice photo of Mr. Henry can take a moment to look into his eyes and say a silent thank you.

  3. Thank you Henry.

    I was fortunate enough to have one of my neighbors tell me a little about what it was like to be in two wars. It's important to acknowledge that the freedoms we currently enjoy came at such a great price given by others. I am in awe of such people.


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