Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 16:23 UK

Hundreds at WWI veteran's funeral


David Gray pays tribute to his grandfather, Henry Allingham

Hundreds of people have lined the streets to watch the funeral of one of Britain's last World War I veterans.

Henry Allingham, who was in the Royal Naval Air Service in the war and later with the RAF, was the world's oldest man when he died 12 days ago aged 113.

Since his death, the last WWI veteran in Britain, Harry Patch, has also died.

Mr Allingham's funeral was followed by a flypast of five replica WWI aircraft. The veteran was being buried with full military honours.

Guests included the Duchess of Gloucester, the veterans minister Kevan Jones and senior figures from the Royal Navy and the Air Force.

Robert Hall
By Robert Hall, BBC News, in Brighton

Henry Allingham had loved this stretch of the southern coastline.

Today, the crowded churchyard spoke of the affection this community felt for him.

There were no famous faces, just those of one man's friends and family.

Yet the path from the church gate was lined with local families showing their appreciation and respect.

They sat in silence as tributes were relayed to them on a giant screen - painting a picture of a remarkable life and a man for whom modesty and duty were all-important.

Alongside the formality of military honours, there was spontaneous applause both as Henry Allingham's coffin left the church and the frail aircraft of WWI passed overhead.

The people of Sussex were saying farewell to an old friend and in doing so turning a page of history.

Mr Allingham's funeral cortege left St Dunstan's care home, where he lived, at around 1115 BST, making its way slowly into Brighton city centre for the family service at St Nicholas Church.

Its arrival was greeted by a half-muffled quarter peal from local bell ringers and Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Guild of Ringers.

His coffin was carried into the church by three Royal Navy and three RAF personnel to reflect the war veteran's service with both.

Mr Allingham's medals were carried by two of his 16 great-grandchildren who are both currently serving in the US Navy.

Outside, a crowd of hundreds watched as the service was relayed on a big screen.

Among them was Dennis Goodwin, founder and chair of the First World War Veterans' Association, who said he would never forget Mr Allingham.

"I have been to many veterans' funerals but this is most special because it coincides with the end of an era."

Also watching proceedings was Eric James, 85, from Brighton.

"I wanted to be part of the service to ensure that his relatives know that his sacrifices during the First World War were not in vain," he said.

'Fighting spirit'

"I didn't know him but what I read gives me a good idea of the brave and wonderful man he was."

During the service Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns paid tribute to Mr Allingham.

He said: "Henry blew the dust off the history books for us, gave us an insight into our heritage and reminded us of our roots and those who have gone before us."

Replica WWI aircraft fly over the south coast
Mr Allingham's funeral was followed by a flypast of replica WWI aircraft

He said many would remember Mr Allingham's humility, humour, integrity and the fighting spirit he embodied.

Air Vice Marshal Peter Dye recalled seeing Mr Allingham conga around the dance floor in his wheelchair.

He said: "I've never known anyone with such an appetite for life. There was a mischievous side to him and a charm."

Many of his relatives travelled from the United States to join dignitaries honouring the last founder member of the RAF and the final survivor of the Battle of Jutland.

One of his grandsons, David Gray, 61, who lives in Michigan, shared precious childhood memories of his grandfather with the congregation.

He recalled the moment he saw his 93-year-old grandfather arrive at Miami airport pushing a younger member of airline staff in his wheelchair.

He said: "That was classic Henry, always a twinkle in his eye and always ready to pull your leg."

He had earlier said Mr Allingham "remembered seeing King George riding on horseback, witnessing the first aeroplane fly overhead and having lunch on board the Titanic".

1896: born Clapton, east London
1916: witnesses Battle of Jutland
1918: transfers to RAF and celebrates Armistice Day in Cologne, Germany
WWll: works on aircraft weapons
1960: retires, aged 65
2003: first meets the Queen
2009: dies in his sleep aged 113

He added: "Who else has had those experiences?"

After the service, Mr Allingham's coffin was carried out of the church and the funeral procession paused briefly as two military buglers from the Royal Marines sounded the Last Post.

It was followed by one minute's silence and the Reveille.

The procession then slowly made its way from the church as the bells began to toll 113 times to mark every year of Mr Allingham's life.

The crowd broke into spontaneous applause and looked skywards as three SE5A biplanes, a Sopwith Pup and a Sopwith triplane flew overhead, before the coffin was driven away.

Mr Patch, who died exactly a week after Mr Allingham, will be buried next Thursday.

He was 111 years old and fought in the Battle of Ypres after being conscripted into the Army at the age of 18.

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