R.I.P Henry Allingham & Harry Patch - WE WILL NEVER FORGET

In Memory of Henry Allingham 6 June 1896 – 18 July 2009

Allingham was born in 1896 in Clapton, County of London; his father died when he was 3 years old. Brought up by his mother and grandparents, he attended a London County Council School before going to work as a trainee surgical instrument maker at Barts Hospital. He did not, however, find this job very interesting, and so left to work for a coachbuilder specialising in car bodies.Allingham remembered watching W. G. Grace playing cricket, around 1903-05, and also recalled seeing the City Imperial Volunteers return from the Second Boer War.
Allingham wanted to join the war effort in August 1914 as a despatch rider, but his critically ill mother managed to persuade him to stay at home and look after her. After his mother died, however, Allingham enlisted with the RNAS. He became formally rated as an Air Mechanic Second Class on 21 September 1915, and was posted to Chingford before completing his training at Sheerness. His RNAS serial number was RNAS F8317.[9]

After graduation, Allingham was drafted to the RNAS Air Station at Great Yarmouth where his job was aircraft maintenance. On 13 April 1916, King George V inspected the Air Station and its aircraft. He was disappointed when the king turned and left just before he would have had a chance to speak to him. Allingham also worked in Bacton, Norfolk, further up the coast, where night-flying was conducted.

Allingham was involved in supporting anti-submarine patrols. A typical patrol would last two to three days and would involve the manual labour of hoisting a seaplane in and out of the water by means of a deck-mounted derrick.


An example of a Sopwith Schneider planeIn the run-up to what has become known as the Battle of Jutland, Allingham was ordered to join the Naval trawler HMT Kingfisher.[14] Onboard was a Sopwith Schneider seaplane that was used to look out for the German High Seas Fleet. Allingham's responsibilities included helping to launch the plane. Although the Kingfisher was not directly involved in the battle (it shadowed the British Grand Fleet and then the High Seas Fleet), Allingham can still rightfully claim to be the last known survivor of that battle and can recall "seeing shells ricocheting across the sea."[15]

In September 1917, Allingham, by now an Air Mechanic First Class, was posted to the Western Front to join No. 12 Squadron (RNAS). This unit acted as a training squadron for other RNAS squadrons based on the Western Front. There is also some evidence that the squadron was involved in combat operations. When Allingham arrived at Petite-Synthe, both the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the RNAS were involved in the Ypres offensive. Allingham also instrumented the very first reconnaissance aircraft camera during World War I.[15]

On 12 November 1917, he was posted to the Aircraft Depot at Dunkirk, where he remained for the rest of the war, on aircraft repair and recovery duties. He recalls being bombed from the air and shelled from the land and sea.

He transferred to the Royal Air Force when the RNAS and the RFC were merged on 1 April 1918. At that time he was ranked as a Rigger Aero, Aircraft Mechanic Second Class and was given a new service number: 208317. He is believed to be the last surviving founding member of the RAF.[9] Allingham returned to the Home Establishment in February 1919 and was formally discharged to the RAF Reserve on 16 April 1919.

He died in his sleep at 03:10 on 18 July 2009 at his care home in Ovingdean near Brighton, aged 113 years and 42 days.

HARRY PATCH

He was a plumber from Somerset, in many ways an unremarkable man, but Harry Patch became the last British survivor of the carnage of the Western Front.

He was the final physical link to a conflict that saw two armies bogged down in the mud of Flanders and northern France for more than four years.

Henry John Patch was born at Combe Down, a small village near Bath, on 17 June, 1898 in the twilight of the Victorian age.

He left school at 15 and became an apprentice plumber but within a year came the outbreak of the Great War.

His brother had been wounded at Mons so Harry had an idea what to expect when he was finally conscripted into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry at the age of 18.

He trained as a machine gunner before embarking from Folkestone in May 1917 en route to Reims. On his 19th birthday he found himself in the trenches.

Passchendaele

He arrived on the eve of what was to become the last, and one of the bloodiest, British offensives of the war, the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele.

The brainchild of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, it was designed to push the army north east and liberate German occupied ports on the Belgian coast.



Many soldiers spent the whole war in a network of trenches
The offensive soon became bogged down in a quagmire caused by torrential rain and the effects of the massive British artillery barrage which had preceded the move forward.

The battle lasted three months, gaining just five miles of ruined ground at the cost of more than 300,000 British lives.

Harry Patch's war came to an end on 22 September, 1917 when a German shell burst over the heads of his five man Lewis gun team. Three of them were blown to pieces while Patch was wounded in the groin by a piece of shrapnel.

He was in hospital for 12 months and was convalescing on the Isle of Wight when the Armistice was signed.

In 1919 he married Ada Billington, a girl he met while recovering from his wound and returned to work as a plumber. They had two sons, Dennis and Roy, but he outlived both of them.

Silence

Too old to fight in World War II he became a firefighter in Bath, tackling the aftermath of German air raids.

In 1980 he remarried, but his wife Jean passed away in 1984. From 2003 he had a third partner, Doris, who lived in the same retirement home and died two years ago.

For more than 80 years he would not talk about his war time experiences, refusing to attend regimental reunions and avoiding any war films which appeared on the television.

In 1998, he agreed to be interviewed for the BBC One documentary Veterans and the realisation that he was part of a fast dwindling group of veterans of "the war to end all wars" persuaded him to step into the limelight.

He accepted an honorary degree from Bristol University in 2004 in recognition of his war service and for his work on the construction of the centrepiece of the campus, the Wills Memorial building, which opened in 1925.



Harry Patch did not discuss his war time experiences until he turned 100
He returned to Passchendaele in 2007 for the 90th anniversary of the battle, laying a wreath, not only on a memorial for the British dead, but also at a cemetery for the German victims of the offensive.

On his 101st birthday he travelled to France where he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, and subsequently made an officer of the Legion d'Honneur.

In 2008, he was also honoured by the Belgian king, Albert II, who appointed him Knight of the Order of Leopold.

One of his favourite awards however was that of the Freedom of the City of Wells, where he had lived for many years.

In 2007 he became the UK's oldest author when he collaborated with Richard van Emden to write The Last Fighting Tommy, a detailed account of his life. He also became a celebrity agony uncle for men's magazine FHM and would often speak at festivals.

But Patch had no time for the Act of Remembrance on 11 November, an event he described as "just show business".

He always maintained that his Remembrance Day was 22 September, the day he lost his three best mates and his war ended.

Harry Patch was essentially an ordinary man who led an ordinary life. Even his experiences on the Western Front were no worse than those shared by many other soldiers.

What was extraordinary was that he lived so long, bringing first hand memories into the 21st century of a battle that has passed into history.