LAST OF THE LEGIONARY LEGEND
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
5 grand children, 12 great grand children, 14 great great grand children and one great great great grandchild – that is the report card of Henry Allingham, a noted ex-serviceman of the First World War who died at age 113 years in the United Kingdom. A man of many parts, he was much sought after by scribes and lensmen as he always made news but shunned newsmen. A very private person indeed .He did not wish to talk about the war until gradually drawn out of the shell by his ghost biographer, Goodwin. On his demise the Queen of England said that she was saddened. Allingham sacrificed so much for all of us.
His name found a mention in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest living man and sole surviving founder member of the Royal Air Force. Born in 1896, he lived in the Victorian era England when peace reigned all over. But it was World War I that made him known to the world. He recalled that as a child he did not see many cars on London roads and the speed limit for them was two miles an hour. When the Great War broke out his mother begged him not to enrol in the military and he honoured her wish. When she expired next year he joined the Royal Naval Air service in 1915 and later the Royal Air Force and saw action in France and Flanders. He could never forget some gory scenes of war and did not wish to talk about them. He saw soldiers standing in 2 ft deep water in trenches and he himself once landed in a bomb crater full of dead rats and guts of dead soldiers. He did not bathe for 3 months for lack of an opportunity to do so. This was the last of the trench war from where almost a million men never returned home. 70,000 Indian soldiers and labourers were there too. Of them 13516 men could not be cremated or buried and their names are inscribed on the India Gate in New Delhi.
Henry Allingham was asked many times what the secret of his longevity was. He could never think of one. However, he prescribed for the youth “the trick is to look after yourself and always know your limitations.”Allingham lived a happy married life and was always faithful to his wife. Never cheated on her. He recalled “I have only ever kissed one girl, my Dorothy. We met in 1915, married in 1918. I never gave my cherry away when I went to the front”. Perhaps that was the secret of his becoming more than a centenarian – Brahmacharya as we understand in India. Historically speaking, his life spanned three centuries and he saw six monarchs on the throne of England. But for the efforts of the Ex-Servicemen’s associations the world would not have known many human interest stories of those veterans of the First World War who “gave their today for our tomorrow”. Whenever there is a Reunion of veterans of World Wars , Queen of England or an important member of the Royalty makes it a point to attend. 10 Downing Street does not go unrepresented either. Indeed it is a great morale raising factor for both the serving soldiers and ex-servicemen. Of course, a positive signal to the youth to enrol for the defence of the motherland.
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