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Last Updated: Monday, 6 June, 2005, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Britain's oldest man reaches 109
Henry Allingham on his 109th birthday
Henry Allingham was 18 when World War I began in 1914
Britain's oldest man has celebrated his 109th birthday, saying his secret for long life is "know your limitations".

Henry Allingham, who lives in Eastbourne in East Sussex, is thought to be one of about only 20 surviving servicemen from World War I.

He served at Ypres and at the Somme and was awarded France's highest military honour in 2003, in addition to various medals awarded by his own country.

On Monday he was presented with a cake by pupils from two local schools.

Mr Allingham's wife died 35 years ago and he has also outlived his two daughters, who both died in their 80s.

'Just another day'

He retired to Eastbourne 40 years ago and celebrated his birthday at a hotel there.

Mr Allingham said: "It's going to be a great day and I'll be having a drink or two for sure.

Friends help Henry Allingham open his 109th birthday cards
Friends and relatives helped Mr Allingham celebrate his birthday

"I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I'd be here today being so well looked after, but I'm beginning to like it.

"In some ways it's just another day for me."

Mr Allingham grew up in Clapton, east London, and volunteered for service at the age of 18 when World War I started in 1914.

He trained as a mechanic and was sent to the Western Front where he carried out vital repairs to aircraft which became essential to the war effort, such as the Sopwith Camel.

He can remember his father dying when he was about 15 months old and the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901 - when he was five.

But he said: "Like so many, I have tried to forget my time in the war.

"In the last few years I have met other veterans, and we never spoke one word of the war, not one."

Henry Allingham in his Royal Naval Air Service uniform
Henry Allingham served as a mechanic at Ypres and the Somme

Asked for the secret behind living to such an old age, he said: "I don't know if there is a secret, but keeping within your capacity is vital.

"I've had two major breakdowns, one during the war and one after but both when I was trying to do the work of three men.

"The trick is to look after yourself and always know your limitations."

Last year Mr Allingham took part in two high-profile events to mark the 90th anniversary of Britain's declaration of war on Germany in 1914.

In August he led the congregation in a reading of the Lord's Prayer at the Cenotaph in London to mark the start of the war and on Armistice day in November 2004 he laid a wreath at the Cenotaph.

France awarded Mr Allingham the Legion d'Honneur in 2003, for his part in the war in that country.

New medals for oldest war veteran
23 Feb 05 |  Southern Counties
Veteran, 107, passes Cenotaph
09 Nov 03 |  Southern Counties


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