The funeral of my old friend William Stone was held this afternoon at St. Leonard’s Parish Church in the lovely little town of Watlington in Oxfordshire.
I was privileged to be among the invited guests, and joined a throng of highly decorated notables, old servicemen and friends as we passed through a gauntlet of television and press cameras gathered outside the door of the church. Having arrived early I was shown to my seat very near the front and found myself sitting next to a delightful young lady who I soon discovered had been commissioned to write William’s life story. The book is due to be published in the autumn of this year.
Truly a man of the twentieth Century, William was one of the last living links between the First World War and the Twenty-first Century. I’ve written about William before on my blog. He was born during the reign of Queen Victoria, served for 27 years in the Royal navy, was the last man alive to have seen active service in both world wars, went to Dunkirk 5 times to bring our troops back home, was the target of a German torpedo which thankfully went right under his ship -the German Commander mistaking it for a vessel with a deeper draft – escaped death many times during the second world war when both the Salamander and Hood were sunk, luckily for William just after he was transferred to other vessels. He also survived the Russian convoys and was mentioned in despatches.
At precisely 2.30 this afternoon his Union Jack draped coffin was brought into the church on the shoulders of six uniformed young ‘Stokers’. During a wonderful eulogy by son-in-law Michael Davidson, William’s great-grandchildren and children from the local Primary School placed little bouquets of snowdrops on the coffin amongst the flowers there. Vice Admiral Sir Barry Wilson KCB read the Pilot’s Psalm and John Green QHC, Chaplain of the Fleet, gave a very humorous address.
When it was time to leave, the coffin, now back on the ’Stokers ‘ shoulders, left the church accompanied by a rousing rendition of one of William’s favourite tunes ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’. Once outside the church a lone bugler from the Royal Marines sounded the Last Post and Reveille. Finally, as we stood in the bright afternoon sunshine the church bell was tolled 108 times – once for every year of William’s long life.