Alex Massie

The Oldest Man in the World

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Henry Allingham, Britain`s oldest man and oldest surviving First World War veteran celebrates his 113th birthday at HMS President at St Katherine`s Dock, London, on June 6, 2009. To commemorate such a historic milestone the Royal Navy is helping their oldest member to celebrate in style. A birthday cake and card signed by the First Sea Lord will be delivered by fast raiding craft of the Royal Marines, and a decanter of Pussers Rum, Henry's favourite tipple, will be presented on behalf of the Fleet Air Arm by Rear Admiral Charlier. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Allingham isn't merely Britain's oldest man; he's now the oldest man on earth, outlasting Japan's Tomoji Tanabe. Patrick Kidd has a lovely post that puts this extraordinary longevity in its proper context:

I met Allingham two years ago when he was a mere 110. He had been invited to the Oval, where he delighted the Surrey members by reminiscing about the players he had seen. “Jack Hobbs was my pin-up boy,” he said of the batsman who made his Test debut in 1908. “There used to be a clock in the pavilion at the Oval and I remember Hobbs always tried to smash its face with the ball. I never saw him do it, but he had a good try.”

But more astounding than that, Allingham recalled seeing WG Grace, who died in 1915. “I was about 4 or 5 and I saw him at Leytonstone,” Allingham said. “He was big, square-built with a beard, but he walked like an old man and I recall him wearing pads that were too big for him.” Delightfully, Allingham admitted that what he most remembered about the day was the quality of the lunch and the sunshine.

Did he see Trumper and Ranji too? CB Fry and Clem Hill? The great Gilbert Jessop in his prime? The idea that there is a living link to the Golden Age is strangely alluring and romantic.

So, congratulations to Henry Allingham. May you see another English Ashes triumph this summer...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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