Jokes aside, he was a modest man who served as Britain’s conscience, reminding young people time and time again about the true cost of war.

“I want everyone to know,” he told The Associated Press during an interview in November. “They died for us.”

He was the last surviving original member of the Royal Air Force, which was formed in 1918. He made it a personal crusade to talk about a conflict that wiped out much of a generation. Though nearly blind, he would take the outstretched hands of visitors in both of his, gaze into the eyes of children, veterans and journalists and deliver a message he wanted them all to remember about those left on the battlefield.

“I don’t want to see them forgotten,” he would say quietly. “We were pals.”