The world’s oldest columnist and the last surviving British officer from World War One has died. Yes, after an incredible innings, my English grandfather, Philip Mayne, has finally moved on at the age of 107 years and 139 days.
He was still remarkably lucid until just a few weeks ago and died peacefully yesterday in his sleep at a North Yorkshire aged care hostel with his daughter, Muriel, by his side.
Readers of the first editions of Crikey will remember this Philip Mayne piece from February 2000 reflecting on what it was like to live in three centuries. Grandpa hand-wrote another three columns as a centenarian up until this charming final effort in June 2003.
The complete package of Crikey columns ended up in a little booklet of which Grandpa was exceedingly proud. Listeners to 774 ABC Melbourne even heard an interview I did with him in December 2005 as part of a discussion about catching up with loved ones over the Christmas period.
Grandpa’s war service was rarely previously mentioned because it was brief and he never saw any action. However, in recent years it has attracted some mainstream media in the UK — including this piece last year in The Times (he’s pictured on the left) — because he was the only British survivor who held the rank of officer.
This happened thanks to a cadetship into the Royal Engineers which meant he was fast-tracked to second lieutenant — the lowest officer rank — in September 1918 at the age of just 18. The war ended six weeks later and he was demobilised on Christmas Eve 1918 without having set foot in France. But he’s still got a small place in history, which is duly noted on his Wikipedia entry, although the correct date of birth was 22 November 1899.
Grandpa is survived by three children, eight grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren, including our two-year-old son, Philip Mayne, whom we named in his honour. There will be plenty of interest in the various heirlooms, including the four letters he received from the Queen for his 100th, 105th, 106th and 107th birthdays.
The funeral will be held later this month in Marton, on the outskirts of Middlesbrough, in the same church where Captain Cook was baptised in 1728.