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By a strange coincidence, Britain's oldest man, Henry Allingham, and America's oldest man, George Francis, were born on the same day - June 6, 1896. That means they are 112 years and six months old this week.
Famous in their own countries, they are little known to the rest of the world. They have never met, and are probably unaware of each other's existence.
Henry Allingham is one of only four remaining British survivors of World War 1 (1914-1918) in which nearly a million of his comrades died.
As a teenager, he enlisted with the Royal Naval Air Service as a skilled mechanic and a year later, in 1916, he was involved in the greatest naval battle of the war, the Battle of Jutland.
In 1917, he was posted to France to support the Royal Flying Corps, and helped service and rescue aircraft which had crashed behind the trenches.
In 1919, he married 22-year-old Dorothy Cater in Chingford, Essex. [In another strange coincidence, the writer of this article was born there... in 1919.]
Henry's wife died 38 years ago, while his two daughters both died in their 80s. He has five grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. Eight of his descendants and their partners flew from their homes in the United States to join him for his 112th birthday.
A report in London's Daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2086501/Henry-Allingham,-Europe's-oldest-man,-celebrates-112th-birthday.html says:
To mark Armistice Day in 2005, Mr Allingham travelled to St Omer, near Calais, France, to lay wreaths to fallen comrades.
A year later, aged 110, as the oldest British World War I veteran, Mr Allingham met his German counterpart, Robert Meier, 109.
The men greeted each other warmly and laid a wreath at the war memorial near Witten town hall.
Mr Meier said it was "amazing" that both men were still alive and went on to say: "Why did we have to have a war?"
In 2007, Mr Allingham marked his 111th birthday on board the Royal Navy's oldest warship, HMS Victory, at Portsmouth.
A military flypast of aircraft from the Royal Navy's historic flight and the RAF marked the occasion.
Henry lived in Eastbourne, East Sussex, on the south coast of England for many years, but when his eyesight began to deteriorate he moved to the nearby St Dunstan’s care home for blind ex-service personnel.
America's oldest man, George Rene Francis, lives in a nursing home in Sacramento, California. Last month he voted for Barack Obama, whose victory, he declared, “made democracy work.”
"... Francis has lived through 19 U.S. presidents and six decades of Jim Crow laws, when he and all black Americans were forced to endure racial segregation," says a report in the Sacramento Observer http://www.sacobserver.com/community/111108/george_francis.shtml
"This week, a beaming, wheelchair-bound Francis told his daughters he felt like jumping up and down after helping to elect the nation’s first black president. 'He is going to give black men a break in the world, and give them a better opportunity to live and make more money,' Francis said.’’
The report says that Francis grew up listening to Louis Armstrong play trumpet on his front porch in New Orleans’s Seventh Ward.
A lifelong Democrat, Francis cast his first ballot in the early 1930s, when he voted for Franklin Roosevelt.
In 1949, before the civil rights movement, he moved west to California seeking a better job.
His wife of four decades, Josephine, died in 1964 at age 63. But Francis’s extended family — which includes four children, 18 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great grandchildren —say the man they call “Papa’’ never lost his spirit, nor his interest in politics.
An article about American supercenturians (people aged 110 and over) in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrie_C._White#Carrie_C._White says: "He credits his longevity to nature, and enjoys a rich diet of pork, eggs, milk and lard. He gave up smoking cigars at the age of 75."
On the other hand, according to the London Daily Mail, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/7439458.stm Henry Allingham has joked that his secret to longevity is "cigarettes, whisky and wild women".
Henry Allingham: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xk_R303aoso&NR=1
George Francis: http://www.truveo.com/Black-Centenarian-Votes-Obama/id/2342739199
FOOTNOTE. The world's oldest living person is Maria de Jesus (115) of Portugal, born on September 10, 1893. The oldest living man is 113 year-old Tomoji Tanabe of Japan, born on September 18, 1895.
Sadly, George Francis died on December 28. "Francis, who lived in Sacramento's Eskaton Care Center Greenhaven retirement community, passed away Sunday after being hospitalized recently for heart problems," Sacramento TV. http://www.news10.net/news/story.aspx?storyid=52493&catid=2