There are only three British men still alive who saw action in the First World War. Henry Allingham, 111, and Bill Stone, 106, served in the Royal Naval Air Service. The British Army's lone survivor, Harry Patch, was too frail to travel.
The First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Jonathan Band, greeted Mr Allingham and Mr Stone at a reception held inside the MOD's Whitehall headquarters on Tuesday 10 July 2007, prior to their appointment at the Palace. The reception was also attended by Veterans Minister Derek Twigg, Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy.
As Britain’s oldest veteran of the First World War and Britain's oldest man, Henry Allingham was keen to emphasise the importance of remembering a conflict that would soon pass from living human memory:
"I don't do these things because I enjoy doing them but to keep the memory alive of all my comrades who fought and died in the First World War," Mr Allingham said.
Henry Allingham is the last surviving member of the Royal Naval Air Service, which he joined in 1915, seeing action at the Battle of Jutland. He is also the last surviving founding member of the Royal Air Force. He left the Service in 1919.
Bill Stone is the last known veteran to have served in both the First and Second World Wars. He tried to join the Senior Service when he was just 15 but his father refused to sign the papers as he already had three older sons already serving. Instead, Bill joined up on his 18th birthday on 23rd September 1918 and had a 27-year career, retiring in 1968.
Bill believes that many young people do not realise the sacrifice he and his comrades made for their country and what would have happened if they hadn't fought for their country. Bedecked in his medals Bill was stopped in the street recently by a young man who complained about having to pay tax to support him. Bill swiftly remarked that if it wasn't for him he wouldn't be around to pay tax. At the reception Bill Stone also shared his secret of his long life. He said:
"Clean living, be a contented man and a trust in the Lord. My motto is to keep going."
Veterans Minister Derek Twigg had previously met Henry Allingham on his 111th birthday, when he was hosted to a lunch on board HMS Victory in Portsmouth. Mr Twigg said:
"I am thrilled the MOD was able to host our First World War veterans prior to their engagement with HM The Queen. These two men have both lived extraordinary lives and have witnessed an almost unimaginable amount of change in that time.
"Like many veterans, they have contributed a great deal to the lives of countless people and to their communities. They truly are an inspiration to us all."
The two veterans went on to a private audience with HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace before meeting Jacob Pratt, 13, from Leeds, and Rupert Forrester, 18, from County Sligo, Ireland, whose great great grandfathers fought in the First World War, at a Buckingham Palace garden party. Both Jacob and Rupert will be reading a poem at the commemorative events in Belgium on July 12 to mark the 90th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.