It’s a very muted celebration compared with the one which had been planned, given the current Covid-19 pandemic. To mark the occasion, staff at Brendoncare Alton are planning to make a chain below Bob’s balcony with a happy birthday message, and to deliver a special cake. They hope to be able to hold a bigger celebration with family members later in the year.
Bob has seen much in his 112 years. Two world wars, five monarchs, 22 prime ministers, even the invention of sliced bread. In an interview in 2015, he said: “The world into which I was born was very primitive in some respects, compared with now. There wasn’t even electric light in our house. We had gas, but I went to bed with a candle, up three flights of stairs. But I remember electricity coming to the house, and we actually had a light in the middle of the ceiling in the living room, with three bulbs on the end of sticks!”
He remembers his father installing a flush toilet; his mother cooking on a coal range; having to boil water in the kitchen to take upstairs; and making a radio using crystals, wire and a tree or big post in the garden. But it’s transport, he says, which is one of the most significant changes in the world. “Until the mid 19th century, nobody anywhere in the world could travel any faster than a man on horseback. Until the railways came, and even then the trains ran at not even 20 miles an hour. But now we think nothing of travelling at 600 miles an hour in an aeroplane, anywhere in the world, in a few hours.”
In 1908, the Olympic Games were held in London, the first of the three Games that would be held in the UK during Bob’s lifetime. Bob was born in Hull, the middle one of seven children, and, in a previous interview, he said his earliest memories were of having mumps when he was five, and of watching fires caused by Zeppelin raids a year later from his bedroom window. He says: “I remember soldiers marching through the streets and the Zeppelin air-raids. We were bombed in Hull as well as London. It was just a chap leaning out of the window and dropping a bomb. But they set things on fire, and during the first raids, I remember hiding under the stairs in the hallway.”
At 16, he took an engineering apprenticeship, but by the time he was qualified, there were no jobs. In 1933, aged 25, he left the UK to take up a post teaching in a school in Taiwan, having first studied Japanese for two years. Whilst living abroad, he proposed to his wife, Agnes, although this in itself was no quick decision: “At the age of 25, I wanted to propose to my future wife as I knew her then, but the only way of doing so was either to send a cable, because we lived in different parts of the world, which would have cost a huge lot of money, because only business people, diplomats, the well to do, could afford to do that. So I had to wait six weeks for a reply!”
The Weightons left Taiwan in 1939, now with a son as well, intending to return home. However, the outbreak of World War 2 meant that their ship was diverted to Canada, and the family later moved to the USA, where his knowledge of Japanese eventually landed him a job with the British Political Warfare Mission, monitoring what was happening in Japan and “trying to ruin the morale of the Japanese fighting forces”.
After the war ended, Bob and his family returned initially to Cornwall, where he met his wife’s parents for the first time since their marriage 13 years earlier. He eventually took up a teaching post at City University, London, and retired to Alton in 1973, where he still lives independently, in an apartment at Mary Rose Mews, part of Brendoncare Alton.
Bob still has a shed, where he enjoys making toys, small furniture and even windmills. He says: “A lady once asked me, “You do woodwork, could you make me a windmill?” And I said “Whatever for? What size?” and so on. But she wanted something to put in her porch because she’d cleared it of all the rubbish, and it looked a bit bare, so she wanted something for decoration or if you like, to make it look more welcoming to people coming up to the door. But other people have got them to put on the patio, or in the garden.”
Bob had 3 children, 10 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. Everyone asks what the secret is to his long life, says Bob. He once said: “I have not lived my life avoiding being run over by buses, or getting cancer, or anything else. I’ve done nothing to deserve or achieve this age. I’m just one of the lucky ones. I just haven’t died yet, that’s all.”
The Guinness Book of World Records is still to officially ratify Bob Weighton as the oldest living man in the world, and in the current climate, his certificate may take a little longer to arrive. A spokesman said: “We’re aware of Mr Weighton, and he is currently being researched by our Senior Gerontology Consultant. It’s been a while since we’ve had a Brit hold the record for oldest living man – not since 113 year old Henry Allingham in 2009 – so we’d love to celebrate Mr Weighton’s remarkable story in the next edition of the book!”