Friday, July 31, 2009

Regarding Henry

Henry Allingham's funeral yesterday reminded me the time I briefly met him in April last year.

It was the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force and, together with some other local councillors, I was kindly invited to a ceremony at RAF Odiham. Nine trees, one for each decade, were planted at the base.

"Officially" planting a tree is a bit of a laugh. Someone else has done the hard work and, with the usual RAF meticulous organisation the soil was neatly piled beside the hole and the sapling placed inside, exactly vertical. So all I had to do was take the gleaming shovel (one per hole, handed over by perfectly presented personnel) and formally shovel in two or three spadefuls. I felt honoured and it was a bit of fun.

The real VIP was, of course, none of the councillors but Henry Allingham. He was 111 years old at the time, and wheelchair bound. It was a chilly spring day and he was wrapped up warmly. He was also a fund of cheerfulness and my abiding memory is what happened as he started shovelling soil onto the tree. We were all watching this World War I veteran with awe when he burst into tuneful song "I talk to the trees, but they don't listen to me."

If this was a cameo of his life, then what a remarkable life.

Dear Henry, you'll be missed.


Slim said...

It was sad to see him go, but he had a good innings. We need to do more to make younger people of the UK remember what happened not so long ago - they do this in Germany.

Sean Haffey said...

What do they do in Germany? Can you give me an example?

Slim said...

They spend time in school explaining the history very thoroughly, giving all young Germans a good grounding in their own recent shady past. Something you don't see over here (Palestine anyone?), or in the US (er, pick any fight...).

You know me - I am the type to mention the war in conversation with German colleagues and friends. Each time I've done this I have been impressed with the knowledge of what happened, and how Germany has changed since those dark times.

BTW, I love Germany and German people - we've just come back from a roadtrip in the Eiffel Mountain area. Fantastic old towns and great plumbing :-)

In my opinion the education system in the UK has gone to pot. What happened to real subjects? Geography, History, Biology, Chemistry and Physics?

Sean Haffey said...

Ah. Two or three decades ago there was less teaching of the facts of recent history in German schools; possibly too many raw feelings.

Perhaps our single biggest failing in the UK has been to let our education standards slip. Get education right and the so much else that is good will follow.