The Associated Press
BRIGHTON, England (AP) - Henry Allingham understood the cost of war in his heart, his guts and his bones - and made it his mission to share that knowledge.
It seems he succeeded.
Politicians, military chiefs, a large extended family and hundreds of respectful strangers bade farewell Thursday to Allingham, the world's oldest man and one of Britain's last survivors of World War I.
Allingham, who died July 18 at 113, was a modest man who earned a place in history, and spent his final years reminding younger generations of the futility of war.
"No man who knows war wants war again," he would later write.
Allingham was the last founding member of the Royal Air Force and one of a handful of remaining veterans of what was once called The Great War. He wanted the dead to be remembered, and honored forever.
Royal Navy Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns told several hundred mourners at St. Nicholas' Church in Brighton, southern England, that Allingham "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."
"We owe him a great debt of gratitude," Johns said.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the medieval church and broke into applause as Allingham's coffin, draped in a red-white-and-blue Union flag and topped with red roses, was carried into the church by Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pallbearers.
His medals and decorations were borne by his great-grandsons Brent Gray and Michael Gray, both petty officers in the U.S. Navy.
"This gentleman sacrificed a lot of his life for the benefit of the people of the U.K. I wanted to be here today to acknowledge that," said Eric James, 85. "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."
In old age, Allingham and the dwindling band of survivors of the war that wiped out much of a generation increasingly served as Britain's conscience, appearing at memorial events and reminding young people of the true cost of combat.
"I want everyone to know," Allingham told The Associated Press during an interview in November. "They died for us."
The Rev. Martin Morgan, chaplain of the St. Dunstan's care home where Allingham lived his final years, told mourners that Allingham should not be celebrated for his longevity but for making the world a better place.
"Neither the time of his birth nor the time of his death were chosen by Henry," he said. "What he needs to be honored for is that he chose to be a kind man, a man of honor, a man of wisdom, a man who chose to be the kind of man children would listen to with rapt attention."
As the coffin was carried out of the church, Royal Marines buglers sounded the "Last Post," and replica World War I aircraft flew past as the bell of the Anglican church tolled 113 times - one for each year of his life.
Allingham's grandson, David Gray of Empire, Michigan - one of several family members from the United States at the funeral - said he had been "overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection and the crowd."
"I hope that everyone views today as a celebration of Henry's life. He was a man who did so much to further people's understanding of the sacrifice of his generation," Gray said.
Allingham served during the 1914-1918 war with the Royal Naval Air Service and then with the RAF, which was founded in 1918. He was an aircraft mechanic and an observer and gunner, taking to the skies in flimsy planes that were little more than motorized kites made with wood, linen and wire.
He fought in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War I, and served on the Western Front. He was wounded in the arm by shrapnel during an attack on an aircraft depot.
After the war, he worked at the Ford motor factory in Dagenham and raised two children with his wife, Dorothy. She died in 1970.
Last year, Allingham joined Harry Patch, Britain's last surviving World War I soldier, and Bill Stone, a naval veteran of the conflict, in a ceremony at London's Cenotaph war memorial to mark the 90th anniversary of the war's end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
Tears flowed as the three frail men in wheelchairs laid wreaths of red poppies at the base of the stone monument.
Stone died in January and Patch, the last survivor of the World War I trenches, died Saturday at 111.
A modestman, Allingham felt uncomfortable with the attention he received.
"I have always said that it was the men in the trenches that suffered; it was the men in the trenches who in my view won the war," Allingham once said. "So I don't think I deserve all this attention. Other men did so much more than me."
The world's oldest man is now Walter Breuning, 112, of Great Falls, Montana.