The Associated Press
BRIGHTON, England (AP) - Politicians, military chiefs, relatives and hundreds of strangers bade farewell Thursday to Henry Allingham, the world's oldest man and one of Britain's last survivors of World War I.
Allingham was the last founding member of the Royal Air Force and one of only a handful of World War I veterans left in the world when he passed away at 113 on July 18.
Hundreds of people gathered outside St. Nicholas' church in Brighton, southern England, and broke into applause as the 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.
"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."
The bell of the Anglican church tolled 113 times, Royal Marine buglers sounded the "Last Post" and replica World War I aircraft flew past.
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 war.
"I want everyone to know," Allingham told The Associated Press during an interview in November. "They died for us."
His grandson, David Gray of Empire, Michigan - one of several family members from the United States attending 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.
Dennis Goodwin, chairman of the World War I Veterans' Association, said Allingham's passing "coincides with the end of an era."
Allingham served during the 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, but survived.
After the war he worked at the Ford motor factory 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 modest man, 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.