Last post for a veteran of two world wars

Sailor Bill Stone, one of the three remaining great war survivors, is laid to rest

Bill Stone's motto, "keep going", served him well. It steered the sailor safely through a life spanning 11 decades and took him from the coal-fired cruisers of the first world war to the beaches of Dunkirk in the second world war and to the peace of a tobacconist and hairdresser's shop in the West Country.

Yesterday, beneath a bright blue sky, William Stone, one of the three remaining veterans of the great war, was laid to rest in a churchyard in Oxfordshire.

His death earlier this month left Henry Allingham, 112, and Harry Patch, 110, as the last flesh and blood links to the 1914-1918 conflict, and robbed Britain of the only living man to have fought in both world wars.

As a pair of red kites wheeled over St Leonard's in Watlington yesterday, six navy stokers bore his coffin, draped in a union flag and topped with roses, lilies and his beret, past six standard bearers and into the church. A step behind the slow marching sailors came Jon Ryder, the leading logistician who accompanied Stone to the cenotaph last November to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the great war armistice. In his hands he carried a cushion on which glinted the veteran's many medals.

During the funeral service Stone's great-grandchildren laid more flowers on the coffin and the congregation was reminded of the life of a man who had joined the navy at 18 and seen action in the second world war.

Fellow veterans, friends and neighbours from Watlington, where he lived with his wife from 1986, also heard familiar stories of his unquenchable thirst for life. As well as treating attendees of his 100th birthday bash to a rendition of All The Nice Girls Love A Sailor, Stone had a fondness for salty humour.

His son-in-law, Michael Davidson, told of the time the by then ancient mariner came face-to-face with the monarch: "He was fortunate enough to meet the Queen and when she asked him how he was feeling, we all knew what was coming but we could do nothing to stop it. 'With both hands,' he replied. I think, judging by the expression on her face, she was a bit bemused by this response."

Despite the innuendo, Stone was a religious man who was confirmed at the age of 88. He was fond of ascribing his longevity to three things: "Clean living, contented mind and trust in God."

As the service ended, and the strains of Wish Me Luck (As You Wave Me Goodbye) reached the churchyard, a Royal Marine bugler blew into his mouthpiece to warm up the instrument.

When the coffin was brought out, the standards raised and the salutes given, the bugler began his solitary task and the last post cut low through the birdsong. After a short pause, the bell that had waited so long to toll for William Frederick Stone rang out 108 times, one for each year of his life.


Sam Jones

The GuardianTramp

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