William Stone died on Saturday, 10 January 2009 aged 108. He received a hero's funeral. Born in rural Devon, he joined the navy during the First World War, travelled the globe just before the British Empire's light began to fade and saw action in some of the most significant sea battles of the Second World War. Afterwards, he returned to Devon to run a barber's shop, an altogether more peaceable existence.
As time passed, he became one of a dwindling number of men who had served in the Great War. This meant that for some of the most momentous anniversaries occurring recently, including the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War, William was a guest of honour.
His life bridged two wars and encompassed the remarkable episodes and adventures that fell to a British sailor of the era. Just one among many, he played his part diligently and with distinction to help win the Second World War. He would be haunted for the rest of life at what he witnessed on the devastated beaches at Dunkirk, as the Royal Navy fought off Hitler's Luftwaffe to save the British Army. Memories of being torpedoed by German U-Boats, and enduring the hardships of the Russian convoys amid the sudden enemy attacks from the sea and air, as well as the Baltic winter would also take their toll on his character. His roll of honour from service in the Second World War is one few can not comment on without admiration and pride.
It was an ordinary life lived in extraordinary times, and he witnessed many of the significant events of his era. He died at a time when the navy is attempting to embrace new ships that bear scant resemblance to those that William knew so well and face the challenges of a world that shrinks with every bold technological advance. His was a different kind of boldness. This is his astonishing story.