HYNDBURN’S oldest man could be the "forgotten" fifth survivor of the Great War.
Ned Hughes, 108, who lives at Woodlands Home for the Elderly in Clayton-le-Moors, did not take part in last week’s Armistice Day commemorations, when three of the four official survivors helped mark the 90th anniversary of the end of the 1914-18 conflict at a ceremony at London’s Cenotaph.
Under current MoD plans the last veteran to die could be given a state funeral to mark the end of a generation.
Although no official records documenting his service have been found, and were possibly destroyed, Ned recalls serving in the 51st battalion of the Manchester Regiment as an infantry soldier.
He says he reported to the Army office in Canterbury Street, Blackburn, when he was called up aged 18 during the last few months of the war.
His claim is backed by the World War One Veterans’ Association, whose chairman, Dennis Goodwin, has spoken and written to Ned.
He said: "Over 50 per cent of First World War records were destroyed. You can’t rule out that documents did exist but proving it is very difficult.
"However, I personally recognise him as a WWI veteran. He is as much a soldier as the others who have been confirmed. He was a central part of the war effort because he was a truck driver."
The association invited Ned to the 11 November Remembrance Day parade but it was felt he would not be up to making the journey.
Mr Goodwin added: "It would have been out of this world if Ned could have attended. I had long given up hope of finding another veteran. I would have been delighted to accompany him.
"The MoD has searched high and low to try and get his service verified."
The three veterans at the Cenotaph ceremony were Bill Stone, 108, Harry Patch, 110, and Henry Allingham, 112, the world’s oldest WWI veteran and the UK’s oldest man.
A fourth surviving British veteran, Claude Choules, 107, lives in Australia and a fifth, Sydney Lucas, died earlier this month aged 108.
Widower Ned, whose real first name is Netherwood, was born to optician father John and Scottish mother Robina in Lord Street, Great Harwood, on 12 June, 1900. He was married twice but never had any children, although his nephews often visit him.
Mr Goodwin added: "The plans now are that once the last veteran has died they will have a replica service like they did in 1919 when the unknown soldier was buried in Westminster Abbey. There will be an empty gun carriage to signify the last soldier.
"My gut reaction is that if Ned was the last one they would wait until he died, just in case. They wouldn’t rush into the service."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said there was no reason to believe Mr Hughes was not a WWI veteran but no records proving it had been found.
Ned spoke to the Observer on his 108th birthday in June but has not been fit to be re-interviewed since then.