Europe's oldest man, Henry Allingham, celebrates his 112th birthday with an RAF flypast today. Ruth Lumley takes a look at the life and times of man who has seen three centuries, two world wars and six monarchs.

Today Henry Allingham, who lives at St Dunstan's care home for blind ex-service personnel in Ovingdean, near Brighton, will witness the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire before the RAF's parachute display team drops in.

Dignitaries at a VIP lunch will include Air Vice Marshal Peter Dye and Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns (Second Sea Lord and commander-inchief Naval Home Command).

Eight of Mr Allingham's grandchildren and great grandchildren and their spouses have flown from their homes in the US for the occasion.

Later in the afternoon, 40 pupils from Cranwell Primary School will present him with a birthday cake in what is the 90th anniversary year of the RAF.

His birthday marks another landmark for a man who is the last surviving founder member of the RAF and whose life has spanned three centuries and six monarchs.

Before setting off to Lincolnshire today from St Dunstan's he spoke about reaching such a grand age.

Sitting in his wheelchair amid glorious sunshine, Mr Allingham said: "I feel on the crest of a wave. What man wouldn't with all the good souls I have looking after me here.

"I'm a lucky guy. I am looking forward to a wonderful day and to seeing the family. I just hope I don't let the side down.

"People ask me how I've done it, and I just say that I look forward to another tomorrow."

Mr Allingham was born in East London in 1896. His father died when he was one year old and he was brought up by his mother and grandparents.

After leaving school he got a job as a trainee surgical instrument maker at St Bart's Hospital in London but soon left for a coachbuilding firm.

When war broke out in 1914, Mr Allingham was dissuaded from joining up by his mother. He stayed to look after her until hear death and in 1915 he enlisted with the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) as an air mechanic.

The following year Mr Allingham joined the trawler, HMT Kingfisher, which was involved in the Battle of Jutland - the largest naval battle of World War I - fought in the North Sea on the last day of May and the first day of June in 1916. He is the last living survivor of the battle.

The trawler was not directly involved in the fighting but Mr Allingham said he remembers seeing shells ricocheting across the sea.

In 1917, he was posted to the Western Front to join 12 Squadron, a training unit, where the RNAS was involved in the Third Battle of Ypres. Nearly half a million servicemen lost their lives there.

He was eventually posted to Dunkirk to repair and recover aircraft and remained there until the end of the war but his unit sustained repeated attacks from land, air and sea.

After returning to England and being discharged from the services, Mr Allingham married Dorothy Cater in Chingford, Essex, in 1919. The couple had two daughters, Betty and Jean. Mr Allingham has outlived both his children who died in their 80s.

During the Second World War, Mr Allingham was in a reserved occupation so he was not allowed to join military service. Instead he was involved in counter-measures such as neutralising mines around the port of Harwich in 1939.

In 1963, Mr Allingham moved with his wife to Eastbourne. Sadly, she died in 1972 after 53 years of marriage.

He has six grandchildren, 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and one great-great-great grandchild, most of whom live in America.

Accompanying Mr Allingham to Lincolnshire is his close friend Dennis Goodwin, also founder of the First World War Veterans' Association, who feted Mr Allingham's strength and character.

Mr Goodwin has also helped Mr Allingham write a book called Kitchener's Last Volunteer: The Life Of Henry Allingham, Britain's Oldest Man and the Oldest Surviving Veteran of the Great War, which is out on October 2, 2008.

Mr Goodwin said: "He is simply an incredible man. Each year we think that maybe this will be his last but he just seems to carry on regardless.

"He is an example to us all. He keeps up with all the events and functions that he is invited to.

"He knows what's going on around him and enjoys the company of people."

Mr Allingham is just one of three known British survivors from the First World War.

The other two are ex-Royal Navy stoker Bill Stone, 107, who was born in Devon but now lives in Oxfordshire, and 109-year-old Harry Patch, who lives in Wells, Somerset, the last surviving Tommy to have served on the Western Front.

Before he left St Dunstan's, Mr Allingham posed for pictures holding a collection of birthday cards and stole a number of kisses from staff wishing him a happy birthday.

Patrick McBride, senior staff nurse at St Dunstan's, said: "He is amazing. He has got such a lovely personality and was singing away happily this morning.

"He loves it here and is so grateful for the care he receives. With his age, he does suffer from pain but he seems to take it all in his stride and gets on with life.

"He calls me boy, everyone to Henry is either boy or girl. He is a pleasure to look after. Whereas a lot of people when they get elderly get quite low in mood, Henry is the opposite."

The Government announced two years ago that the death of the last known First World War veteran would be marked by a national memorial service at Westminster Abbey. The decision was warmly welcomed by veterans and by MPs who have campaigned for a service to mark the final passing of the generation who fought in the 1914-18 conflict.

On what lessons he learnt from the First World War, Mr Allingham has said: "Hear all, see all and say nowt."

He has been awarded a string of accolades including the British War Medal, Victory Medal and the Legion d'honneur, France's highest military honour.

In April 2006, he was given the freedom of Eastbourne, the town where he retired in the 1960s.

He lived a relatively independent life alone in the resort but with his eyesight fast deteriorating, he moved to St Dunstan's where he can receive round-the-clock care.

Leave your birthday greetings to Henry below.