Sunday, 11 November 2018

Britain on Remembrance Day is a country and no country for its oldest of old men, Bob Weighton, six years old on the 11th November 1918

Today marks the centenary of the end of the First World War when at 11 o'clock in the morning on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front and the War in Europe was at an end. In the four years of war, Britain had lost 512,000 men dead and had 1,528,500 injured.

Bob Weighton, was born in 1908 and at 110 years, is Britain's oldest man, a title he shares with Alf Smith, from Perth. Born in Hull, he remembers, seeing from his bedroom window, the fires caused by German Zeppelins, airships which could travel at more than 60 mph and carry two tonnes of bombs. Bob, who had seen them as a six year old boy has said : “The appearance of the Zeppelin in the sky was a total surprise. The early ones, we had no defences and no awareness, there were no air-raid wardens.” 

When the sirens went off my mother brought us all down from our attic bedroom and we children crouched under the space under the stairs and sometimes under the heavy oak dining table. I remember our grandma rocking to and fro on her heels as she was kneeling down and moaning : "On God. Oh God" as the bombs appeared to get nearer. My Mother was calm and collected."

As his six years moved through to seven, then eight, nine and ten, he became aware of the toll War was taking : “There were little wooden plaques with the names of soldiers who had been killed which were put up at the street corners and flowers would be left on the pavement outside the house. They got more frequent and there were some little streets with six or eight names of young men who had been killed in France for everyone to see.”

Earlier this year Bob said : "If there’s anything that characterises the present world, it is the recrudescence of tribalism in Brexit, Trump, Putin."

Last year, Bob said that he was a "bit irked" to be celebrating his 109th birthday on the same day Brexit was triggered and although he was "not enamoured" with all of the European Union's decisions and spending, he felt quitting was a "mistake". He said he did not regard Theresa May's signing of Article 50, as "a step forward at all" and joked : "She didn't ring me up to see what my reaction would be." 

He has described himself as "very internationally-minded",  partly because his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are "scattered around Europe" including some in Germany. He said that Britain leaving the EU would be like a divorce : "You can't just walk away and expect it not to have any repercussions. It's not like resigning from a golf club because you don't like the secretary, it's more like a divorce with all of the heartache and recriminations that follow. However, you have to live with the way things are not the way you would like them to be."

He has lived through “times that have been exciting, times when it’s been very scary, times when it’s been the dawn of a new day. At the moment, it’s a total muddle – you’ve got Trump, Putin, and political stalemate in Britain.”

He was not in favour of Brexit, he said :“I have a son who married a Swede, and a daughter who married a German. I flatly refuse to regard my grandchildren as foreigners. I’m an internationalist but I’ve not lost my pride in being a Yorkshireman or British. I’ve lived in a number of countries and I felt I was at one with the people there. You can make as good a friend with a German or an Argentinian or a South African as you can with the man next door.”
Bob took 'A Level' German at the age of 70 and keeps two small flags, German and Swedish, on his mantelpiece – a nod to his international extended family.

As a teenager he joined the Peace Movement, a cause he still holds dear and has said :

"I don't think you should cease to be what you were born into and I'm just as proud now of being a Yorkshireman, as I ever was. I come from Yorkshire. I was born in Hull. But I think my horizons have expanded to an extent to which I hadn't dreamt they would do so. Although I did travel, the most valuable experience is not the actual travel; it's living in a community which is not the same as what you were born into; to include in my friendships people of totally different nationality, language and social structures."

"But my experience is that although you recognise differences, you have to do that to be realistic, it's no hypothetical matter. But in the end I find it possible to have the same set of human relationships with everybody else, different though they may be and you've got to find a way of living together constructively. You have to live together in some way and you have to give and take and reach a reasonable conclusion. You can't live in a world where everything is perfect from your point of view and destructive of somebody else's. But, if you want to know what I feel is the outcome of all my experiences I would say that sums it up better than anything else." 
"I've got to say it's far better to make a friend out of a possible enemy than it is to make an enemy out of a possible friend."

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