Henry Allingham may have been one of the UK’s most famous ex-servicemen by the time of his passing aged 113 in 2009, but a new display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum shows how, like many of his comrades, the World War I veteran was keen to put his wartime experiences behind him.
© Fleet Air Arm Museum
The Museum, near Yeovil in Somerset, is putting Allingham’s First World War service medals on display after they were recovered from the bottom of his old toolbox by his grandsons while they were clearing out his Brighton house.
Still tarnished and aged after years beneath the grease, spanners and screwdrivers, the WWI Victory Medal and British War Medal now form part of an exhibition celebrating 100 years of the Royal Naval Air Service of which Allingham was the last and oldest surviving member.
“The medals had been lying in the bottom of Henry’s tool box for a very long time,” says Museum Director Graham Mottram. “They are battered and dirty and without their ribbons.
“We have taken the unusual decision to leave them in the condition in which they were found. Their condition and the fact that they were found in his tool box are a poignant reminder that veterans from the Great War were not triumphalist; instead they just wanted to forget about it. We are honoured to have such a pertinent reminder of this important gentleman”.
Like so many of his generation, Allingham, who was the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland, had been reluctant to discuss the events of WWI and his role in it. It was only in his later years, when he felt an increasing sense of responsibility, that he became an ambassador for his generation.
© Fleet Air Arm Museum
It was thought the medals were misplaced over 60 years ago during World War Two and, after it emerged that the veteran had borrowed a pair of medals for an official function, the Ministry of Defence stepped in and presented him with replacements at a ceremony held in Eastbourne in February 2005.
As well as the two original service medals, Allingham’s American grandsons, the Gray brothers, have given the Fleet Air Arm Museum his French Légion d'Honneur.
They join an exhibition, which includes a replica aircraft, celebrating the early pioneers of the service that Allingham was part of and that later became the Fleet Air Arm.
Henry Allingham was interviewed by the naval airforce's museum in 2006. Excerpts of the interview are on the Museum’s website (follow the link below) and his medals and his silver WWI identity bracelet, bearing the inscription “R N A S. Henry W Allingham. AM1 CoE” (Royal Naval Air Service. Henry W Allingham. Air Mechanic 1st Class. Church of England) are now on public display.
The exhibition, Early Pioneers of the Royal Naval Air Service, will open at the Fleet Air Arm Museum on June 27 2011.