This post will be of interest to the students studying Wilfred Owen. Henry William Allingham, the world’s oldest man and one of the last surviving first world war servicemen, has died at the age of 113.
It was his experiences during the war that defined the man, but for more than 80 years he refused to speak about it. He was finally persuaded to talk about the past by Dennis Goodwin who, as founder of the First World War Veterans’ Association, organised reunions and trips for old soldiers.
“He’d answer the door and not let me in,” recalled Goodwin, his carer and the ghost writer of his memoirs. “He’d say, ‘I want to forget the war, I don’t want to talk about it’. But I sent him letters about the reunions and gradually he let me in and we got talking. Eventually I got him out of his flat in Eastbourne and took him to the pier. He met other veterans and started to think, ‘I could do this’. It was a very slow process – he’s essentially a very private man.”
Once Allingham started talking, it became clear that the scenes he witnessed of soldiers waiting to go over the top at Ypres never left him. “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.”
He remembered spending a night in a shellhole in Flanders. “It stank,” he said. “So did I when I fell into it. Arms and legs, dead rats, dead everything. Rotten flesh. Human guts. I couldn’t get a bath for three or four months afterwards.”
Read the whole story here.