History With the sad death over the weekend of Harry Patch, the last surviving ‘Great’ War veteran, a vital link to that conflict has been lost. In November, for the first time there’ll no living survivors to remember their colleagues so it’s vitally important that we should be there for them, just as we should pay attention to the contribution made historically to any man or woman who has set their own safety aside to defend ours (and especially in wars which we might consider to be unjust because they were and are also brave enough to do their duty).

It’s through the longevity of these veterans that up until today we could still consider World War I as being within living memory. Patch was 111 when he died. Henry Allingham, who died last week, was 113. The oldest living person is Gertrude Baines of the United States, who was born on 6 April 1894 at 115 years old. She was born in the year Manchester City Football Club was formed, Blackpool Tower was opened, the International Olympic Committee was founded and William Kennedy Dickson received a patent for motion picture film.

As I wrote yesterday of how Elizabethan times can seem like a fictional realm and how seeing Robert Dudley’s tomb brought the period to life, I thought too about how, if you were to take people of great longevity into account, there aren’t that many lifetimes between now and then; that in her early life Gertrude would have been on the planet with someone who was born during the Napoleonic Wars and they in turn the Anglo-Spanish War. Today, with the aid of the Wikipedia, I think I’ve worked out that there are only five lives between us and somebody who could recall the Spanish Armada.

Gertrude Baines was born in was born April 6, 1894. Two months later Karl Eduard Zachariae von Lingenthal the eminent German jurist died, he was born on December 24, 1812 which was the death day of George Beck, American artist and poet. Beck was born in 1749 the year that Handel gave his first performance of Music for the Royal Fireworks. The Italian painter Giovanni Maria Galli da Bibiena died in that year. In 1656, the year of de Bibiena’s birth, Thomas Fincke the Danish mathematician and physicist perished. He was born in 1561.

Five lifetimes between us and someone who, if they’d left Denmark, could have watched a play at the Globe and for whom Shakespeare was a contemporary. Wow. Of course, though facts become murkier, you can continue even further backwards:

In the year that Finke was born, we find the funeral of Claude Garamond, the French publisher and designer of the famous typeface. He was born a whole twelve years before Christopher Columbus set sail for the Americas in 1480. Tristão Vaz Teixeira explorer (‘discovered’ the Madeira Islands) died that year and assuming he was born in 1395 (the wikipedia isn’t sure), it was at the same time John Barbour the Scottish poet left us. He originally joined us in 1320 when Ricold of Monte Croce, Italian Dominican missionary died. To close out the millennium:

Hōjō Yasutoki, regent of Japan (1183-1242)
William Fitz Robert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester (1116-1183)
Robert of Arbrissel, preacher (1045-1116)
Emperor Go-Suzaku of Japan (1009-1045)

Emperor Go-Suzaku born one thousand years ago. Thirteen lifetimes. There could even be less. The wikipedia only lists royals, artists, scientists and celebrities – for all we know there were people who simply worked hard and survive all of their lives whose births and deaths weren’t recorded. And, I’ve only created linkages through hatches and dispatches in the same year. With more time, a more complex hunt using a wider range of sources could narrow the gap even further too.

Thirteen lifetimes. A thousand years. Like I said, wow.

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