Thursday, 29 January 2009

Bill Stone Remembered

by Kathryn Hadley

The funeral of the last remaining Royal Navy veteran from the First World War was held today in Oxfordshire. Bill Stone was also the last British serviceman to have seen active duty in both world wars because the other three surviving veterans only held civilian jobs in both world wars.

The service took place in St Leonard’s parish church, Watlington, Oxfordshire, where Bill Stone had lived since 1986. He died on January 10th at a care home near Wokingham in Berkshire. After the coffin was carried out of the church, a Royal Marines bugler sounded the Last Post and the Reveille and the church bells then tolled 108 times, one for each year of Stone’s life. A shrub was then planted and a plaque was dedicated to his memory in the grounds of the church.

Bill Stone was born on September 23rd 1900 in Ledstone, South Devon and was one of 14 children. He tried to join the Royal Navy aged 15, but his father, who already had sons fighting in the Great War, refused to sign the necessary papers. He eventually joined the navy on his 18th birthday, in 1918, as an Ordinary Seaman. He was then transferred to Stoker upon the insistence of his brothers who were already serving as Stokers. In 1922, he joined the battleship HMS Hood and travelled the world to various British colonies ‘showing the flag’. During the Second World War, he notably served as Chief Stoker on HMS Salamander and participated in the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, making five trips to pick up the troops. He also took part in the Sicily landings in 1943 on board HMS Newfoundland.

After leaving the navy, Bill Stone returned to Devon where he ran a barber’s shop and throughout his retirement he regularly participated in commemorative ceremonies of both world wars. In 2004, he was presented with the National Veterans’ Badge. He appeared for the last time in public in November at the Cenotaph in London, where he led the remembrance ceremony with two of the three other surviving veterans of the First World War, Harry Patch and Henry Allingham. The third remaining 107 year-old veteran, Claude Choules, lives in Australia.

A few years Bill Stone was quoted:

I've had a wonderful life. I've always worked hard, never stopped for a minute and it's kept me going all right.

Commodore Al Rymer of the Royal Navy, who represented the Ministry of Defence at the funeral, said:

William Stone served in the Royal Navy for 27 years in a distinguished career that involved him in both world wars [...] I'm very honoured to represent the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy today in commemorating his remarkable life.

His life is an inspiration to us allIt was also 153 years ago today that the Victoria Cross was founded by Queen Victoria. For more information on the cultural, social and historical significance of the medal, read our article

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