Over a hundred mourners gathered yesterday to pay tribute at the funeral of William (Bill) Stone, the last veteran of both the First and Second World Wars. Chief Stoker Bill Stone served in the engine room of several war ships including HMS Tiger in 1918 and, during the 1920s, the ill-fated HMS Hood – see our blog of 20th November 2008. During the funeral service in St Leonard’s Church, Watlington, Oxfordshire, Bill’s Naval career of 27 years was praised by Commodore Al Rymer of the Royal Navy, who described him as living a ‘remarkable life’.
In a recent interview for WW2 People’s War, Bill enjoyed recounting witnessing the rescue by HMS Eagle of General Franco’s brother from the sea in 1929, where his seaplane had crashed due to engine failure. He also spoke, more sadly, of his experiences during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 ‘I was often stationed on the quarterdeck helping men get aboard (HMS) Salamander as they swam out from the beach. Other groups of men had managed to find boats and row out to the ship. On one occasion I had a rope around a badly injured soldier who had bones sticking out of his trousers. Just as I tried to pull him in, the ship went ahead and I lost him. I don’t know what happened to him’
Bill had been one of the three surviving veterans of the First World War to attend the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice at the Cenotaph last November. On that day, he had been accompanied by Leading Logistician Jon Ryder, who had pushed his wheelchair. Yesterday, Leading Logistician Ryder followed behind Bill’s coffin, carrying the medals which represented Bill’s service in the two world conflicts. Amongst these was the oakleaf representing Bill’s Mention in Despatches for his role serving on HMS Newfoundland when the ship was torpedoed off Malta in 1943.
Bill Stone was a prominent figure in a number of military associations including the Dunkirk Veterans, HMS Hood and HMS Newfoundland Associations as well as the Royal British Legion. Following the funeral, a memorial plaque was sited in the grounds of St Leonard’s Church in his memory.