Privileged personnel and children at RAF Leeming were delighted to host a real hero when they were paid a very special visit by Henry Allingham.
At 111 years young, Henry Allingham is just one of three known UK survivors from the First World War – with just one representing each of the three Armed Services. As well as being the last founder member of the RAF, he is also the sole survivor of the Battle of Jutland.
Mr Allingham has been awarded a string of accolades including the British War Medal, Victory Medal and the Legion d'honneur, France's highest military honour.
During his visit to RAF Leeming, which fell just after his 111th birthday, Mr Allingham was shown around one of XXV(F) Squadron’s Tornado F3’s, and compared modern jets with the aircraft he maintained after joining the brand new Royal Air Force.
Henry then paid a visit to RAF Leeming’s Primary School, where the children welcomed him with a birthday cake and were invited to ask questions about his life – including the toys he used to play with as a child.
Henry said: “I had almost forgotten about my time with the RAF but they have resurrected me! I never used to enjoy the attention but now I just lap it up! I feel like Alice in Wonderland, it’s all a bit of a daydream and I feel very spoilt.”
Henry tried to join the forces in August 1914 as a Despatch Rider but his mother persuaded him that his place was at home looking after her. It was only after she died that he was able to enlist, joining the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). He was formally rated as an Air Mechanic Second Class on 21 September 1915and posted to Chingford before completing his training at Sheerness.
In May 1916, Henry was ordered at short notice to join the armed trawler HMT Kingfisher, carrying a Sopwith Schneider seaplane.Kingfisher was at sea during the Battle of Jutland, shadowing the British Battle Fleet. They subsequently followed the High Seas Fleet taking care to avoid the mines laid by the retreating battleships. Henry makes the point that the crew were not really aware that they had taken part in a major sea battle until they returned to Great Yarmouth on the Wednesday and were certainly unaware that it had been a ‘victory’ until the church bells rang on the Thursday! Although the trawler was not directly involved in the action, Henry can properly claim to be the last survivor of that crucial battle.
During the Second World War, Henry was in a reserved occupation working on a number of projects. The most significant was probably the effort to provide an effective counter-measure to the new German magnetic mines. He was called away from his Christmas lunch in 1939 to assist in devising an effective system to neutralise the mines and open the port of Harwich that had been closed. He returned nine days later, the task successfully completed.
Editor: Lynne Dunne
Photographers: SAC Monk & SAC Waterson - RAF Photographers
Images of Henry Allingham aged 111 years. Last founder Member of the RAF. 19th - 21st June 2007. Visiting RAF Leeming personnel and local