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July 18, 2009 6:26 AM   Subscribe

Henry Allingham, the world's oldest man, has died aged 113.

Born in 1896, Mr. Allingham became a teenager for the second time last month. He was a veteran of the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

A poignant memory from WWI: "The scenes he witnessed of soldiers waiting to go over the top at Ypres have stayed with him ever since. “They would just stand there in 2ft of water in mud-filled trenches, waiting to go forward,” he said. “They knew what was coming. It was pathetic to see those men like that. I don’t think they have ever got the admiration and respect they deserved.”
posted by idiomatika (61 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
. . .
posted by bwg at 6:30 AM on July 18, 2009


_
posted by Mach5 at 6:31 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


what was the cause of death?
posted by billybobtoo at 6:38 AM on July 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Seems like I read this story a lot.
posted by smackfu at 6:41 AM on July 18, 2009


Wow, married for fifty years but outlived his wife by almost forty years. I'm not sure I'd want to out live everyone I know.
posted by octothorpe at 6:43 AM on July 18, 2009


In related news, the stock prices of birthday candle manufacturers just took a big hit.
posted by jamstigator at 6:53 AM on July 18, 2009


Dammit. Another one! God, it's like there's a parade of the world's oldest people or something.
posted by Malor at 7:03 AM on July 18, 2009


Well, the problem with being the world's oldest man is that there's always somebody gunning for your title.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:06 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


,
(because everyone got sick of the period?)

I'm not sure I'd want to out live everyone I know.
Therein lies the problem with immortality. That feeling basically sucks, I bet.
posted by Askiba at 7:11 AM on July 18, 2009


Did they bother to get a blood sample first?
posted by Brian B. at 7:24 AM on July 18, 2009


Man, eveeyone's dying these days. Michael Jackson did it and it just became trendy.

*
posted by LSK at 7:24 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wasn't this in the new just a few months ago?
posted by cjorgensen at 7:29 AM on July 18, 2009


his youthful enthusiasm [for war] was replaced by a lasting passion for peace. “War’s stupid,” he told the BBC. “Nobody wins. You might as well talk first, you have to talk last anyway.”

Mr. Allingham, we have had some whippersnapper world leaders of half your age who could have benefitted from a talk with you.
posted by orange swan at 7:35 AM on July 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


cjorgensen: He was only oldest for a short period, there was coverage in the UK news a couple of months ago when he became oldest man after (IIRC) a Japanese man died.
posted by biffa at 7:36 AM on July 18, 2009


there was coverage in the UK news a couple of months ago when he became oldest man after (IIRC)

You do recall correctly, and I am gutted because he lived only a few miles from here and I was determined to somehow get to meet him so I could say I've met the oldest man in the world.

Unfortunately I was not quick enough and now I'd have to travel much further afield to achieve this.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 7:44 AM on July 18, 2009


Old men die. The oldest man in the world (not counting that secret valley in Tibet) is always already way, way overdue. Scan the news and you'll probably find an oldest someone dying every few weeks.

If I'm ever ancient and still compos mentis, I'm going to make a point of shaking hands (something old people are generally good at) with lots of kids (if adults are allowed to touch kids in the future) and telling them they have to remember this so when they're old they in turn can shake hands with kids and say stuff like "When I was a kid, I shook hands with a man who remembered before there was an internet and when only government and big companies had computers. People used to read paper books and listen to music on the radio and play vinyl records and write with pencils and pens, and they used to die of cancer back then and they had no idea it was caused by [fish, I'm betting]."

By the way, doesn't this make three obituaries out of eleven posts so far today? Now someone will arrive with one of those insane "these things come in threes" comments.
posted by pracowity at 7:48 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seems like someone dies almost every day.
posted by HumanComplex at 7:52 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


You do recall correctly, and I am gutted because he lived only a few miles from here and I was determined to somehow get to meet him so I could say I've met the oldest man in the world.

Unfortunately I was not quick enough and now I'd have to travel much further afield to achieve this.


But the current "oldest man" (according to Wikipedia) lives in Montana, which is a beautiful place to visit for other reasons as well.

Having interviewed quite a few centenarians in the past (oh local newspapers with your upbeat, feel-good features) I have to say that it's rare to have a really fun conversation with someone much over 100. A lot of their energy is going into just keeping the old machine running, but you don't put all the "my back hurts/I need a drink of water/who did you say you were again, little lady?" static into the interview, so it always comes off like they're magnificent raconteurs.

That said, I fully intend to live to be 120, so look me up in 76 years and I promise not to complain about my backache.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:54 AM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Every day I get that much closer to being the world's oldest man.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:16 AM on July 18, 2009


I didn't know the man. He probably would have wanted me to get off his lawn.
.
posted by Balisong at 8:27 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cripes, I hope I'm never the World's Oldest Man. It's a death sentence.
posted by codswallop at 8:29 AM on July 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


so look me up in 76 years and I promise not to complain about my backache.

Well I'll only be 107 then so I should be fine to travel wherever you will be living.

(And yeah I wasn't really intending to have a deep conversation with him. A quick handshake and "it's an honour" would've been enough, really. Besides, my nan is "only" 87 and has been complaining about her various ailments for at least 10 years.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 8:32 AM on July 18, 2009


Well, the problem with being the world's oldest man is that there's always somebody gunning for your title.

Bah. That's the kind of attitude that will keep you from ever getting there at all. If I make it that far, I'm gonna get a sex change and start gunnin' for the oldest woman.

(or maybe, since it will be like 2097 or some such by then, I'll just get changed into a bristlecone pine and go for a serious title)
posted by madmethods at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2009


RIP, Mr Allingham.

And yes, the title now goes to Walter Breuning who lives here in Great Falls, Montana. He was profiled on CBS News just three months ago, in fact.
posted by davidmsc at 9:02 AM on July 18, 2009


I think it's perhaps more important for British people, as he had become a symbol of the Great War. I don't know how that conflict is seen around the world, but here it's only just behind the Second World War in terms of folk memory. A million people from the UK died during the conflict, and every city, every town, every village even, has a monument to them. Though Henry Allingham wasn't the last living solider, he had the status of a living monument.

My own grandfather fought in the war, though he's long since died, and I never met him. But I've heard stories about how the war affected him, and the quote from Allingham's obituary in the Guardian sums it up: "It was his experiences during the war that defined the man, but for more than 80 years he refused to speak about it." My grandfather never got to the point of being able to speak about it, so I'm glad that people like Allingham have lived long enough to speak for him and his experiences, to represent him as long as they could.
posted by Sova at 9:05 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 9:14 AM on July 18, 2009


The best way to live long and happy is forget how old you are. Once you start thinking about age you become old. Notice how quickly the "oldest people in the world" die after they get the title.

This seven-minute BBC interview with a 98-year old runner is well worth listening to for wisdom of the ages.
posted by stbalbach at 9:19 AM on July 18, 2009


Though Henry Allingham wasn't the last living soldier

That's true (and in fact he was a sailor), though I believe his passing leaves only Harry Patch. His death will be a day of some reflection in the UK.

A while ago there were calls for the last survivor of WW1 to be given a state funeral when he died. The debate ended prematurely when all those potentially eligible for the honour expressed their opposition to the idea..
posted by genesta at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. 113 years ago, I was -80.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:33 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a Brit, perhaps I feel far more deeply about this death.

This man witnessed the stupidity and barbarity of war at a scale few have since. It's not just that people died in the tens of thousands, alone and cold on some barren field. It's that a generation of men were sent over the trenches in the almost certain knowledge that they would die.

I kinda feel that losing people like him is like losing the voice of our collective conscience telling us not to be so dumb again.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:54 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


“War’s stupid,” he told the BBC. “Nobody wins."

Wise, wise words. Here's hoping the afterlife has plenty of whisky for you, Henry.

“He thinks he has got to a time where he is more than ready to go. But as his mother used to say, ‘Wait to be asked, Henry, wait to be asked’.”

113 years certainly must have taught him some serious patience.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:58 AM on July 18, 2009


This article reminded me of Jeanne Calment, the last centenerian to have been -- at least, in the media's eye -- a remarkable personality. That lady met Van Gogh! She was older than cinema! She was a Gibson Girl! (In a French way, of course.)

(More than that, it made me think of old Tommy Atkins, in Terry Pratchett's Johnny and the Dead. But that is too painfully nerdy a reference, perhaps. Still, I wish I was where I could salute. I wonder if his American family knew him well?)
posted by Countess Elena at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2009


biffa: "He was only oldest for a short period, there was coverage in the UK news a couple of months ago when he became oldest man after (IIRC) a Japanese man died."

Henry Allingham was the world's oldest living man for 29 days, since Tomoji Tanabe of Japan died on June 19 at the age of 113 years and 274 days. In the past decade, there have been ten different oldest living men, including Emiliano Mercado del Toro (21 August 1891 – 24 January 2007), the only oldest living person from the past 30 years who was male.

(See Wikipedia's lists: Oldest living people since 1955 and Oldest living men since 1961.)
posted by Plutor at 10:14 AM on July 18, 2009


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posted by jeremias at 10:16 AM on July 18, 2009


I'm glad he had an understudy. When first I heard this I thought: "Oh no! We don't have an oldest living man any more!"
posted by Floydd at 10:32 AM on July 18, 2009


He once put his longevity down to “cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women”.

This man is my hero.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 10:41 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Henry Allingham in his own words.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:58 AM on July 18, 2009


Agree particularly with Sova and with the other Brits writing on this - WW1 had a huge impact on this country and it still resonates today. I had relatives on both sides of the family killed and my grandfather was shot in the leg on the Somme and gassed at Arras. And I remember him very well and fondly. My wife's grandfather was a regular soldier and a Sergeant-Major in the Gloucestershire Regiment. He went through the whole bloody show from 1914 - 1918 (he was one of the Old Contemptibles) and survived. There' weren't many that did that. We still have fragments of his diary.

One interesting thing about this is that we are now right on the cusp of this momentous and horrible war ceasing to be living memory and truly becoming history. I think Harry Patch - who lives quite near me in Somerset, England - is the last "Tommy" now.

Funnily enough - and as evidence I guess of how this war still haunts us - one of the first tracks I uploaded to MiFiMu was about WW1. It's called White Feather - for the info of non-Brits the white feather was given to men who were a little...er...slow in joining the army. It's an emblem of cowardice. I can't post a link to the song because apparently I haven't posted enough comments to qualify for such a privilege - no matter.
posted by MajorDundee at 11:14 AM on July 18, 2009


. 1896 - Marconi was awarded the British patent 12039 (...) for Radio WP
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.
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. 1900
.
.
.
.
.
.
- Henry turns 10
.
. 1908 - Model T
.
.
.
. 1912 - Titanic sinks
.
. 1914 - WWI
. 1915 - WWI
. 1916 - WWI
--
. 1917 - WWI / Russian revolution creates Communist Russia
. 1918 - WWI / Spanish Flu epidemic
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
---
.
. 1928 - Television (B&W)
. 1929 - Black Tuesday, start of the Great Depression
.
.
.
. 1933 - King Kong plays in theaters
.
.
.
----
. 1937 - The Hindenburg disaster
.
. 1939 - WWII
. 1940 - WWII
. 1941 - WWII
. 1942 - WWII
. 1943 - WWII
. 1944 - WWII
. 1945 - WWII
.
-----
.
. 1948 - Beginning of South African Apartheid
.
. 1950 - Korean war begins
.
.
. 1953 - Korean war armistice
. 1954 - NBC makes first nation-wide colour television broadcast
.
.
----- -
.
.
. 1959 - Start of the Vietnam war (according to Wikipedia)
.
. 1961 - Construction of the Berlin wall begins
.
. 1963 - JFK assasinated
.
. 1965 - National Voting Rights Act in the U.S.
.
----- --
.
. 1968 - MLK Jr. Assassinated
. 1969 - Neil Armstrong walks on the moon
.
.
.
.
.
. 1975 - End of Vietnam war
.
----- ---
.
.
.
.
. 1981 - Inaugural launch of the Space shuttle program (Columbia)
.
.
.
.
.
----- ----
.
.
. 1989 - End of Communist Russia
.
.
.
.
. 1994 - End of Apartheid in South Africa
.
.
----- -----
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. 2000
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.
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----- ----- -
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. 2008 - Barack Hussein Obama elected president
. 2009

He had a good run.
posted by Decimask at 11:17 AM on July 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Here's a list of the known surviving veterans of World War I. With Allingham's death, there are four left. Just four.

.
posted by Silune at 11:24 AM on July 18, 2009


He had a good run.

That's a somewhat U.S Centric list for a British person (Wouldn't he remember the first BBC colour broadcast a bit better?)
posted by delmoi at 11:32 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Probably. I don't know British history, though (I barely even know my Canadian history). Also, I'm supposed to be studying for some very brutal tests right now.
posted by Decimask at 11:33 AM on July 18, 2009


When first I heard this I thought: "Oh no! We don't have an oldest living man any more!"

god you're dumb.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:36 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"War’s stupid,” he told the BBC. “Nobody wins."

Sounds like Mr. Allingham would make a better government than the one 'serving' now. Specially in light of his new disability.
posted by Twang at 11:40 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


re: A poignant memory...

So I took a taxi to the front, introduced myself to the local commander, who had gone, as I recall, to Iowa State, and spent a couple days waiting for the impending human wave attack. That attack was to be conducted primarily with 11-and 12-year-old boys as troops, nearly all of them unarmed. There were several thousand kids and their job was to rise out of the trench, praising Allah, run across No Man's Land, be killed by the Iraqi machine gunners, then go directly to Paradise, do not pass GO, do not collect 200 dinars. And that's exactly what happened in a battle lasting less than 10 minutes. None of the kids fired a shot or made it all the way to the other side. And when I asked the purpose of this exercise, I was told it was to demoralize the cowardly Iraqi soldiers.

It was the most horrific event I have ever seen, and I once covered a cholera epidemic in Bangladesh that killed 40,000 people.


how far we've come; RIP.
posted by kliuless at 11:44 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Holy shit. He was 37 years old when King Kong was released. I think my mind just snapped.
posted by brundlefly at 12:27 PM on July 18, 2009


King Kong wasn't released. He died in a flurry of gunshots.
posted by found missing at 12:35 PM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


When he was my age: That takes him through June. Mind: blown.
posted by Decimask at 12:48 PM on July 18, 2009


Respect to him, and rest in peace.

I met him a couple of months ago, shortly before his 113th birthday. He was wheelchair-bound, as you might imagine, but he talked lucidly, if quietly, and he sang us a couple of songs. He also made a joke about looking forward to being a teenager again, which I thought was quite witty.

I have to say, though, meeting him made me think that I wouldn't want to live that long myself - always to be the centre of attention, and to be put on a pedestal on behalf of (as it were) so many other long-dead people. It felt a bit like he wasn't treated as him - he was really a figurehead or a symbol, and his individuality and character were ignored because of what he stood for. That's just me talking, he may well have thought it was a great honour and pleasure.
posted by athenian at 2:21 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


.
posted by mr. strange at 3:20 PM on July 18, 2009


Last survivor of the battle of Jutland. Last surviving member of the Royal Naval Air Service. Last surviving founder member of the RAF.

That's a tragically high number of lasts.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.


As the last survivors of that great war pass, it becomes more important to honour that promise. To those who never survived to such a great age, and to those who did.
posted by kaemaril at 7:59 PM on July 18, 2009


A man with his feet in three different centuries, and two millennia!

Wow. Just...wow.

Sleep well, sir.
posted by I, Credulous at 10:56 PM on July 18, 2009


Scan the news and you'll probably find an oldest someone dying every few weeks.

Well, the oldest man title only changes hands every 600 days or so.
posted by dhartung at 11:36 PM on July 18, 2009


A man with his feet in three different centuries, and two millennia!

The former is more of an achievement than the latter, to be honest. There's an awful lot of people who can lay claim to the second bit.
posted by kaemaril at 5:04 AM on July 19, 2009


.
"Nobody wins."
Amen to that sir.
posted by BadMiker at 5:34 PM on July 19, 2009


.

And sometimes the over-comfortable snarkers should shut up for a post - this isn't Michael Jackson.
posted by Shinkicker at 1:50 PM on July 20, 2009


I saw the coverage all over the news while I was in the UK for a wedding over the weekend. The emphasis was less on the "oldest living man" bit and more on his service during WW1 and the memories he finally started sharing with people. a couple of snippets that stood out (while I was sitting in various trains cross country)

"A life in pictures"

You are old, Father William, but I’m listening
posted by infini at 10:57 AM on July 21, 2009


I spent the afternoon with Henry on his 110th birthday. He was a lovely, gentle, smiley man. He told me that he didn't deserve all the attention "just for living longer than any of the others" [WW1 veterans]. He met a lot of people that day. And those that met him took away tiny particles of joy from the experience. God bless him.
posted by baggymp at 12:04 AM on July 23, 2009


From BBC News:
The last British survivor of the World War I trenches, Harry Patch, has died at the age of 111.

Mr Patch was conscripted into the Army aged 18 and fought in the Battle of Passchendaele at Ypres in 1917 in which more than 70,000 British soldiers died.

He was raised in Combe Down, near Bath, and had been living at a care home in Wells, Somerset.

The sole British survivor of World War I is now seaman Claude Choules who is aged 108 and lives in Australia.
posted by kaemaril at 5:51 AM on July 25, 2009


The Menin Gate

What are you guarding, Man-at-Arms?
Why do you watch and wait?
'I guard the graves,' said the Man-at-Arms,
'I guard the graves by Flanders farms
Where the dead will rise at my call to arms,
And march to the Menin gate'.

'When do they march then, Man-at-Arms?
Cold is the hour - and late'
'They march tonight' said the Man-at-Arms,
With the moon on the Menin gate.
They march when the midnight bids them go.
With their rifles slung and their pipes aglow,
Along the roads, the roads they know,
The roads to the Menin gate.

'What are they singing, Man-at-Arms,
As they march to the Menin gate?'
'The Marching songs', said the Man-at-Arms,
That let them laugh at fate.
No more will the night be cold for them,
For the last tattoo has rolled for them,
And their souls will sing as of old for them,
As they march to the Menin gate."

Anon
posted by genesta at 8:29 AM on July 25, 2009


mais non, Wilfred Owen's words speak truer

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares2 we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest3 began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots4
Of tired, outstripped5 Five-Nines6 that dropped behind.

Gas!7 Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets8 just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime9 . . .
Dim, through the misty panes10 and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering,11 choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud12
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest13
To children ardent14 for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.15

8 October 1917 - March, 1918
posted by infini at 4:29 PM on July 27, 2009


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