At a time when the fiscal policies of our government are increasingly judged to be unwise, our overseas military operations perceived by many to be ill-founded and the behaviour of those who govern our land deemed so often to be unsuitable, it is easy to pour scorn and criticism on any aspect of British life which reflects upon the establishment.
Yet on Thursday 30th July 2009 Britain did something very proper, very right and very dignified. Henry Allingham had died some twelve days earlier. A decorated veteran of the First World War, he was with the Royal Naval Air Service and later with the Royal Air Force. When he died at the age of 113 he was actually the world’s oldest man. He served his country well and honourably and later, by all accounts, his local community too, often talking to young children about his experiences and about the awfulness of war.
His funeral was of course a family affair. After all he had sixteen great-grandchildren, two of whom carried his war medals. But it was also an opportunity for a nation, a government and a monarchy to express their thanks and appreciation of a man who by all accounts, was very humble and very quiet. As such, the Duchess of Gloucester attended, together with very senior figures from the RN and RAF and a crowd of (apparently) hundreds watched the service outside on a big screen, such was the popularity of the man locally.
And how fitting a tribute that the ceremony to mark his life was followed by a flypast of five replica WWI aircraft before the veteran was buried with full military honours.
The elderly are often treated with little dignity and little respect in this country, but on this occasion, just this once, Britain did something right and made me proud to be British.
The BBC’s full report of his funeral can be read here.