Today was the funeral of the last man in Britain to have served in both world wars. William Stone was 108 years old. As his friend said he was not an extraordinary man he was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life.

What monumental changes he saw in his long life. When he was a child there was no welfare state so he would have seen real poverty around him, people not worrying about paying the mortgage but worrying about scraping together the rent, parents denying themselves food in order to feed their children and relying on charitable organisations to save them from total destitution. Pensions were brought in by Mr Lloyd George in 1908, but they were only for those 70 years old and over, so many did not survive long enough to collect them.

No radio,  no TV, no computers, cars for the rich but most people dependent on horse drawn transport. Industrial areas covered in a pall of black smoke.

Injury or illness must have been terrifying without a health service and without the medical advances made later in the century.

It must have puzzled Mr Stone to watch us making the same mistakes over and over again. He must have believed, as many did, that WW1 was the “war to end all wars” after seeing so many of his generation lost in the carnage, only to see it all over again twenty years later. He must have lost count of the number of recessions and booms he had lived through.

There must have been things he regretted passing, closeness of families and neighbourhoods, though maybe he didn’t lose that himself as he seems to have been much loved by his neighbours, who were today remembering his good nature and cheerfulness. 

When asked recently to what he attributed his long life he replied, “Clean living, a sense of humour, belief in God and a tot of rum!” Not a bad recipe is it?

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