‘It’s taken ten years off my life’

Henry Allingham, the oldest man in Europe, was 112 last week. Considered to be one of only three surviving World War 1 veterans, Henry celebrated his birthday in style at Royal Air Force College in Cranwell, Lincolnshire with family, friends and many well wishers.

It was a whirlwind week for the Brighton resident who was born in London on 6th June 1896, the year that the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens.

Last Sunday, Henry was also the guest of honour at his former rowing club, Eton Mission, in London’s Hackney Wick. Thrilled to return to the canal-based club, Henry declared, ‘It’s wonderful – it’s taken about ten years off my life!’

Introduced to rowing by his mother’s youngest brother, Charlie Foster, Henry became a regular fixture on the water at Eton Mission from 1909-1914 and then from 1919-1922. Only World War 1 got in the way with Henry surviving the Battle of Jutland, the Somme and Ypres. ‘I thought I couldn’t row properly and I learned to row here and got better and better. I got all the books out of the libraries.’

‘I got a lot of pleasure out of rowing and just watching people rowing,’ he added as he scrutinized sepia-tinged photos of the pre-World War 1 Eton Mission crews. Thirty-seven years younger but still the oldest current Eton Mission member, 75-year-old Jimmy Murphy presented Henry with a specially engraved silver tankard. ‘To good health!’ the guest pronounced.

And so to the crux – the secret of long life?

‘You want to know? I want a fiver!’ retorted Henry, eyes twinkling. ‘Cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women! And a sense of humour.’

Look out for more about Henry Allingham in July’s Rowing & Regatta, available in late June.