Life of heroism 'done in moderation': Britain's oldest general, Sir Philip Christison, celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday. Steve Boggan reports

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SEVENTY-EIGHT years ago, during the Battle of Loos, Philip Christison's life almost came to a premature end when he was blown into a crater and found himself face to face with a German soldier.

Both men, exhausted from battle, raised their pistols and fired. The young Christison felt a bullet hit him in the groin, but the German fell down dead.

This was just one of the stories regaled yesterday at celebrations to mark the 100th birthday of the encounter's survivor, a young officer who became General Sir Philip Christison, best known as the man who took the surrender of the Japanese Seventh Area Army and its South Seas Fleet at Singapore in 1945.

To mark the event, the Ministry of Defence laid on a series of birthday presents with a distinctly military flavour.

Britain's oldest general awoke to the reveille played by the pipes and drums of the Queen's Own Highlanders, then he was saluted by helicopters in a fly-past by the Army Air Corps, before being presented with a birthday cake baked by army cooks.

His has certainly been a remarkable life. After surviving the encounter with the German, the wounded Sir Philip and a sergeant held back attackers for two days, an act of bravery that earned the sergeant a Victoria Cross and Sir Philip a Military Cross.

His contemporaries, almost all of whom are now dead, recall that earlier on the day that he was shot, Sir Philip rallied the men of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders with a rendition - in Gaelic - of 'The March of the Cameron Men'.

Between the wars, the general served in India with the Duke of Wellington's Regiment and later as Commander of the 4th (Gurkha) Infantry Brigade Group.

In the Second World War, he fought the Japanese in Burma and Singapore. He was knighted in 1944 and the following year became the only Lieutenant General to be awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the capture of Ramree island from the Japanese.

On 3 September 1945, as Commander in Chief Allied Land Forces South East Asia, the only British Commander in Chief actively engaged in fighting when the war against Japan ended, Sir Philip took the surrender of the Japanese Seventh Area Army and the South Seas Fleet.

After the war, Sir Philip was appointed Commander in Chief Scottish Command and Governor of Edinburgh Castle, overseeing the first military tattoo, until he retired in 1949, moving to the Scottish border town of Melrose with his wife, Lady Christison.

Since then, he has established a fruit farm, written books about warfare and ornithology and continued to shoot and fish.

Now a widower, Sir Philip lives in a rest home in Melrose, but retains a keen sense of humour. Asked yesterday for the secret of his long life, he replied with a twinkle in his eye: 'Oh, I do everything in moderation.'

(Photographs omitted)