War veteran, 104, honoured in ceremony

A 104-YEAR-old from East Anglia, who is one of only 23 known survivors of the First World War, has been honoured on the 90th anniversary of the start of the conflict.

A 104-YEAR-old from East Anglia, who is one of only 23 known survivors of the First World War, has been honoured on the 90th anniversary of the start of the conflict.

Despite being unable to attend due to poor health, George Charles, of Halesworth, was among the veterans remembered at a service at the Cenotaph in London yesterday.

Great grandfather Mr Charles lives at Highfield Residential Home, and Sally Bardwell-Doughty, activities co-ordinator, at the facility, said: "We are all very proud of him and he is thought of as family by the staff here."

Born in South Shields near Newcastle in October 1899, Mr Charles went into the army at the tender age of 17 and became a member of the Durham Light Infantry.

He served at Ypres in northern France towards the end of the war but was sent home for treatment after a gas attack.

He returned to France after recovering and stayed there until after the war and amongst his many medals, is the Legion of Honour, awarded to him by the French Government three years ago.

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One of his three daughters, Lisa Haugh, of Norwich, said: "He missed the very worst of the fighting and when he was sent back to France he wasn't in the front line and this probably saved his life."

After the war, Mr Charles trained as an engineer in the Merchant Navy but also worked for a short time at the St Hilda's Colliery in South Shields.

Mr Charles entered the London brewing business until the Second World War broke out and being too old to fight, instead became a firefighter in the capital.

He retired to Beccles, a favourite holiday destination, with his wife, Annie-Maria, who died in 1992, before he moved to Highfield in 1999.

His other two daughters live in Essex and Kent and Mr Charles is also a grandfather-of-five and a great-grandfather-of-nine.

Ron Shields, chairman of the welfare committee of the Halesworth and District Royal British Legion, visits Mr Charles once a month.

He said: "He is a grand old chap, and although his eyes and ears are going, he is really sharp up top."

At the service in London yesterday, the courage of the nation's surviving First World War veterans remained undimmed as they gathered to remember fallen comrades.

Four heroes, the only former servicemen of the 23 known survivors well enough to attend, carried wreaths and personal messages to the Cenotaph, in London, betraying their advancing years and ailing health.

Shortly before 11am, escorts drawn from the current Armed Forces helped three of the veterans, easing their wheelchairs the few yards from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Cenotaph.

Britain's oldest surviving veteran, Henry Allingham, 108, along with Fred Lloyd, 106, and Jack Oborne, 104, carried wreaths of poppies on their laps as they were wheeled into position under the shade of Whitehall's canopy of trees.

Royal Navy veteran William Stone, 103, proud and animated, strode behind his colleagues before they stood, and sat, in quiet contemplation before the monument to the nation's dead.

Hundreds of members of the public and dignitaries from Britain and former Commonwealth states joined tributes to the 750,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives during the four-year conflict.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Minister for Veterans Ivor Caplin and Air Chief Marshal Sir Anthony Bagnall, vice chief of the defence staff, also stood silent by standard bearers as Big Ben chimed the hour and a military bugler struck up the Last Post.

Following one minute's silence, the veterans moved forward in unison to lay their wreaths at the base of the monument and keep alive memories of those they lost decades ago.

Mr Allingham, who had served at the Somme, Battle of Jutland and the third battle of Ypres, shocked his escort as he struggled free of his wheelchair, determined to place his poppy wreath on to the Cenotaph unaided.

Dennis Goodwin, secretary of the World War One Veterans' Association, then told the congregation: "This handful of survivors from World War One have gathered here this morning to remember the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of their war, a war which tragically changed the face of Europe and significantly changed their lives.

"A war that brought sorrow and sadness into every hamlet, village, town and city across our country.

"These are very brave men, as witnessed by the fact that they made this journey to London today to stand in front of the country's, the Queen's monument to our glorious dead."

Mr Allingham, of Eastbourne, East Sussex, and Mr Oborne, of Oxford, later led the Lord's Prayer before Mr Stone recited John McCrae's 1915 poem In Flanders Fields.

Later, the veterans were greeted in the nearby Ministry of Defence building by Mr Caplin, and awarded with a new Veteran's Badge, created for all former servicemen in March.

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