The oldest man in Britain and one of the last survivors of the First World War has co-written a book about his life.

Henry Allingham, who celebrated his 112th birthday in June, launched Kitchener’s Last Volunteer at the RAF Club in Piccadilly, Central London.

Mr Allingham, the last surviving original member of the 1919 Royal Air Force, was in tears at the book launch on Tuesday as he spoke of those who lost their lives during the war.

He said: “I am here today, not for me but for all those who gave their lives on our behalf.

“Thank goodness for those people. I could never thank them enough.

“If it wasn’t for them, our privileges would have been destroyed. We probably would not even be here now.”

For many years Mr Allingham lived in Eastbourne but when his eyesight began to deteriorate he moved to St Dunstan’s care home for blind ex-service personnel, in Greenways, Ovingdean, Brighton.

His friend and co-author, Dennis Goodwin, founder of the First World War Veterans’ Association, said Mr Allingham had asked him to write the book last year after meeting 110-year-old war veteran Harry Patch, of Somerset.

Mr Goodwin, of Amberley Drive, Goring, said: “The book is all of Henry’s memories written down.

“I tried to interweave bits of the wider history into the story, to give people an impression of the times Henry lived in.”

Paying tribute, Mr Goodwin said Mr Allingham was a recluse when he first met him. He said: “I think he has done so well now because the more you engage people and focus attention on them the more they develop a will to live.

“And that’s the case with Henry. If he had been allowed to vegetate he would have disintegrated.”

Mr Allingham joined the Royal Naval Air Service in September 1915 before transferring to the RAF in April 1918.

In the foreword to the book, Prince Charles wrote: “He lost many comrades in combat and nearly died himself on the Western Front, yet he lived to tell the tale while millions perished.

“His story is vital to our understanding of life at that time in those dire circumstances that are now poised to drift into the dark shadows of time, and we should never forget the sacrifices made on our behalf.

“Henry Allingham is a living piece of our British history, a link to our past whom we should cherish while he is still alive and able to re-tell his astonishing story. We should all be humbled by this quiet, genial man and his desire to extol peace and friendship to the world, despite all the horrors he witnessed at such a young and impressionable age.”

In one section of the book, after describing his life as an aerial observer and mechanic with No 12 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service, he pays tribute to the Army’s fighters.

He says: “What we went through was nothing compared to the boys on the frontline in the trenches, and I used to see them coming off the line to rest and refit.

“They came out of the trenches like hermit crabs, weighed down with kit.

“It was these men in the trenches who won the war, in my view.

“Everybody did their bit but we couldn’t all be in the trenches and they did very well.

“Really and truly, you got so used to men dying that you never mentioned them again. All the time I was there I didn’t get to know that many very well.

“I was a bit of a loner. And you don’t know much about what’s going on.

“You don’t even know what happens down the road, except by jungle drums.

“People think that because you were there you know all about it. You don’t.

“You only know one little bit. The only blokes who knew everything were the ones who ran the war.”

Readers of The Argus can buy Kitchener’s Last Volunteer (RRP £17.99), published by Mainstream Publishing, for the special price of £15.99, including free postage and packaging.

To order call 01206 255800 and quote reference “The Argus”.