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06/06/2006

Britain's oldest WWI veteran celebrates 110th birthday

Britain's oldest surviving veteran of the First World War celebrated his 110th birthday on Tuesday.

Henry Alingham is Britain's oldest man. He was 18 when the First World War began and served as a mechanic in the Royal Naval Air Service - the forebear of the RAF - and he flew patrols in the North Sea as a navigator, repairing aircraft and engines at the battles of the Somme and Ypres.

Mr Allingham was awarded France's highest military honour - the Legion d'Honneur - in 2003. He retired to Eastbourne 40 years ago.

Mr Allingham celebrated his birthday at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, where he was joined by Chancellor Gordon Brown and Veterans' Minister Tom Watson.

The Chancellor delivered a letter of good wishes to Mr Allingham from the Queen. He said: "It was an honour for me to meet Henry and pass on Her Majesty's message. Mr Allingham is a patriotic British citizen who has bravely served his country and deserves all of the tributes he is receiving today.

"We must never forget the debt we owe to Henry and the millions of other British servicemen and women who have risked their lives in the defence of our country."

Mr Watson said: "It is important that we should never forget the sacrifice made by Henry Allingham's generation both on the front line and on the home front."

The RAF also scheduled a fly-past at midday on Tuesday to commemorate Mr Allingham's birthday.

The Chancellor and Mr Watson also announced plans for a series of commemoration ceremonies and events to take place around the first National Veterans' Day on June 27. These include: a parade at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to mark National Service Day on June 25; a service at Westminster Abbey on June 26 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross; and a special reception, hosted by the Chancellor in the Cabinet War Rooms on June 27.

Events will also took place in cities and local communities across the country to mark Veterans' Day on June 27.

It was also announced that the Ministry of Defence will underwrite the remaining cost of creating the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, which will allow construction to start immediately, while giving the trustees time to raise the outstanding balance of £3.3 million.

The memorial will be dedicated to members of the armed forces killed on duty or as a result of terrorist action since the end of the Second World War.

(KMcA/GB)

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