Page last updated at 18:27 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Old and young unite for veteran

Bill Stone's funeral
"He was full of life, full of wit, enjoyed life. He was a character through and through."

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Oxfordshire for the funeral of the last British serviceman to have seen active duty in both world wars.

The BBC's Angus Crawford says all generations gathered to say farewell to William "Bill" Stone, who died earlier this month aged 108.

The small flint stone church was almost full an hour before the service began.

Under a clear blue sky villagers and friends began to gather in the graveyard too, unable to find a pew.

The youngest came in pushchairs bundled up against the cold, their parents hurrying them up the country lane between standard bearers, standing to attention waiting to greet Bill Stone's coffin.

Bill Stone [pic: PA]
Bill Stone's motto was "keep going"

The oldest stood together in groups, chatting quietly, sometimes laughing at shared memories and jokes.

On their heads they wore berets, on their chests, medals marking their many campaigns. Below the gleaming awards, the insignia of ships long sunk, scrapped or sold.

Some leaned on walking sticks, held by hands now shaped by arthritis. The backs may have been less straight and the hearing not quite as sharp, but a question about their friend William “Bill” Stone was met with a smile and a gleam in the eye.

"When we used to go to the reunions he'd be the last one to go to bed, singing his shanties and in the morning he'd be up knocking us all up to go to church!" said Anthony Toms, from the HMS Newfoundland Association.

[He] should go down in history, as a man who loved life, loved his fellow man
Anthony Toms, HMS Newfoundland Association

"One of his comments was always 'I have no enemies, they're all my friends, because I've outlived all my enemies'.

"He was a lovely character, one in a million."

Ian Wigston, also in the same association, was a stoker like Bill Stone.

"He was full of life, full of wit, enjoyed life. He was a character through and through."

Every generation of every branch of the services was present.

There was a commodore and a vice admiral, and carrying the coffin were six young men.

They call them technicians today, but as the Venerable John Green - chaplain of the fleet - explained to the congregation, they're really stokers, just like Bill Stone was.

'Wave me goodbye'

The mourners sang about the veteran's love of country and of the sea. They heard of his mischievous sense of humour and his "extraordinary life".

His coffin left the church for the last time to the tune of Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye.

Anthony Toms, from the HMS Newfoundland Association, summed up his friend:

"He was one of those characters who won't go down in history - but should go down in history- as a man who loved life, loved his fellow man and would do anything for his fellow man".

An honour guard stood and lowered their standards, black ribbons swaying gently in the air.

A lone bugler played the last post and reveille.

Bill Stone then began his final journey as the bells of the church tolled 108 times. One for each year of his life.

In the last decade he rarely gave up the chance to tell a story or give an interview.

He told journalists his secret for a long life "clean living, a contented mind and trust in God".

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British WWI veteran dies aged 108
12 Jan 09 |  Berkshire


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