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Bill Stone
Bill Stone
Bill Stone in Watlington, Oxfordshire, November 2006.
Birth: 23 September 1900
Ledstone, Devon, England, UK
Death: 10 January 2009
Sindlesham, England, UK
Age: 108 years, 109 days
Country: UK Flag UK
Centenarian

William Frederick "Bill" Stone (23 September 1900 – 10 January 2009) was a British centenarian who was one of the last five surviving First World War veterans who served in the United Kingdom's armed forces and one of the last two surviving seamen worldwide, along with Claude Choules. They were also the last two to have also served in the Second World War, although Stone saw action only in the Second World War as he was still in training when the First World War ended.

Biography

Early life

Stone was born in Ledstone, Devon, as the tenth of fourteen children, and enlisted into the Royal Navy on his 18th birthday. Two of his older brothers had already joined the navy, and a third was in the army. He had first tried to join up at the age of fifteen, walking three miles from where he was working on a farm, to Kingsbridge, to collect the attestation papers, but his father refused to countersign them.

Naval service

The first record of his naval service describes him as being 5'5.5" (1.66 m) tall, with a 32.5" (83 cm) chest, brown hair and blue eyes, and his prior occupation as stationary engine driver. He trained as a Stoker in Plymouth, and could remember the dancing in the streets on Armistice Day. His first position was as a Stoker aboard the battlecruiser HMS Tiger, and by summer 1919 was at the main wartime Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow, here he was a witness to the scuttling of the German fleet.

He remained in the navy after the war, serving on HMS Hood during the 1920s, including a round-the-world "Empire Cruise" showing the flag in British colonies from 1922–24. By the outbreak of the Second World War he was Chief Stoker of the Halcyon class minesweeper HMS Salamander. On her he participated in the evacuation of Dunkirk, with Salamander making five shuttle trips and picking up over a 1,000 men from the beaches.

He served on the Arctic convoys and in the Mediterranean, and was also torpedoed twice. The second time was while serving aboard the Crown Colony class light cruiser HMS Newfoundland during the Allied invasion of Sicily, when it was hit by U-407. Following temporary repairs in Malta, the ship limped across the Atlantic steering using only its two propellers, for full repair at the Boston Navy Yard. He was Mentioned in Despatches on 21 December 1943 for his service on this occasion. He served with the occupation forces in north Germany, and was a Stoker Chief Petty Officer when he left the navy in 1945. After the war, he ran his own barber's shop, where he also sold cigarettes and smoking tobacco, he retired in 1968.

Family

William married Lily Margaret E Hoskin (1908–1995) in Kingsbridge in June 1938. The marriage lasted fifty-seven years until Lily’s death in 1995. The couple had one daughter Anne.

Anne married Michael J Davidson in Kensington, London in 1967. The couple had two children: Christopher and Susan.

Later life

Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, Stone left the Navy and ran his own barber’s shop, where he also sold cigarettes and smoking tobacco.

He retired in 1968 at the age of sixty-seven. By 1986 Lily's health began to decline, diagnosed with critical arthritis, the couple moved to Watlington in Oxfordshire, to be near their daughter, Anne, son-in-law Michael and their grandchildren, Christopher and Susan who lived in Buckinghamshire. As the years passed by, Lily became more crippled by her arthritis eventually being confined to a wheelchair, however Bill said that "mentally she was always bright. I was happy that she was able to stay at home and that I was able to look after her. At that time we had a cottage hospital – Watlington Hospital – where eventually she used to go each month to give us both a rest."

Lily died in 1995, aged eighty-seven, leaving Bill a widower. The local community looked after him. "On my first Sunday at church following her death General Sir John Mogg and his wife, Margaret, who lived in the village, said to me 'William, you are to sit with us now.' As I got to know them better I found out that Lady Mogg's sister, Sarah MacKinnon, had been married to a naval man. He had, in fact, been Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Evans of the Broke in H.M.S. Carlisle at the same time as I had served in that ship on the Africa Station back in 1936!"

He attended the sixtieth anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations in 2000, outliving the Dunkirk Veterans' Association which disbanded after this commemoration.

In 2005, Stone became Fox FM’s Local Hero and Central Television’s Personality of the Year.

In his last years Bill attended reunions for HMS Hood and HMS Newfoundland in which he met up with fellow Hood survivor and veteran Ted Briggs.

In 2006, Bill, as he was known had a fall and broke his hip at the age of 106. Due to his increasing old age, he was forced to leave Watlington, Oxfordshire and move into a retirement facility in Sindlesham, a suburb of Winnersh, which lies between Reading and Wokingham, in 2007.

On 11 November 2008, Stone along with fellow veterans, Henry Allingham and Harry Patch laid commemorative wreaths at the Cenotaph in London to mark the ninetieth anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Stone died at Lord Harris Court Care Home in Sindlesham, Berkshire, England, UK on 10 January 2009 at the age of 108 years, 109 days. His funeral was held on 29 January 2009 at St Leonard's Church, Watlington. In September 2009, memoirs detailing Stone's experience of the two world wars were published.

References

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